What is a Deferred Sentence?
There are two types of probation offered in exchange for a plea of guilty: a deferred sentence and a suspended sentence. While the requirements are the same for both types of probation, there are some distinct differences you need to understand in order to make an educated decision about whether a plea offer is the right fit for you. Here are the important elements of a deferred sentence:
The biggest feature of a deferred sentence is that you get an automatic partial expungement if you successfully complete the sentence. With a deferred sentence, you are technically not ever found guilty of the crime. At your plea hearing, the judge states they are withholding a finding of guilt and deferring sentencing to a certain date. On this date, your case will be dismissed if you have completed all of your probation requirements and paid off all of your associated fines and fees.
Some people think a dismissal is equivalent to being found “not guilty,” and while it is similar in perception, it is not legally the same. Being found not guilty means your case went to trial and the jury (or judge) decided there was not enough evidence to convict you. When a case is dismissed, the State is essentially saying you shouldn’t have been charged. The State dismisses cases when it charges the wrong person or realizes a witness wasn’t being truthful.
At the end of a deferred sentence, your case is dismissed and you are given an automatic partial expungement, also known as a 991c expungement. With this type of expungement, your record will show that you plead not guilty and received a dismissal, but your case will still appear on OSCN if you search for it. Additionally, an automatic partial expungement will not remove your arrest record, and law enforcement will be able to find your case using their search tools.
Length of Time
Unlike a suspended sentence, a deferred sentence can exceed the maximum time prescribed by statute, and often does. For example, a misdemeanor DUI has a maximum punishment of 1 year. But if you receive a plea offer for a first-time DUI, it will most likely be an 18-month deferred sentence. Eighteen months is clearly longer than the 1 year prescribed by law, but the State is able to exceed that time frame because it is in the form of a deferred sentence, which is both permitted by law and more appealing for those looking to plead.
Generally speaking, your probation requirements are the same regardless of whether you are given a suspended or deferred sentence, but occasionally, you can get a deal to be on “991 fees” instead of formal probation with a deferred sentence. This is not possible on some forms of probation, and is more common for smaller cases, such as misdemeanors, in larger counties. When you are on 991 fees, you are required to pay the probation fee each month, but have no formal supervision requirements. This means you aren’t required to check in or work with the probation office regularly to ensure compliance. This DOES NOT mean that you are not held to the same probation standards. For example, if you are charged with another crime, you are still in violation of your probation. The only way to avoid formal probation and get on 991 fees is to ensure you have completed all requirements of probation prior to plea: community service, classes, etc.
You Only Get One
You will only be offered a deferred sentence once, and only when you do not have a criminal history. There are always exceptions to this rule and occasionally prosecutors will give a deferred sentence if you haven’t had criminal charges in a VERY long time (such as, over 20 years), but that is rare. Additionally, there is a statute in Oklahoma preventing you from receiving a second deferred sentence on felonies—not only is it a long shot, but it can only be offered for misdemeanors.
The Bottom Line
A deferred sentence is a wonderful tool for keeping your criminal charge off your record, and allowing you to move on with your life after a mistake. If you think you may be able to receive a deferred sentence for your case and have questions about it, call us for a free consultation.