Often times a prosecutor will offer a deferred judgment and sentence to resolve a case. Why do I call it the dreaded deferred judgment? Sometimes it is the best way to resolve a matter and sometimes it is a too good of an offer to reject. I often say “if you didn’t do the crime, don’t admit guilt.” Unfortunately, even innocent people get convicted. The deferred judgment and sentence offer on a winnable trial challenges the most seasoned attorney.
What is a deferred judgment and sentence? A deferred judgment is an agreement with the district attorney’s office where the defendant admits guilt by pleading guilty to a charge and the sentence is deferred for an agreed upon of time. After the agreed period of time, if the defendant fulfills any agreed upon requirements, the district attorney files a motion with the court asking the court to allow the defendant to withdraw the guilty plea and the charge is dismissed. Just like you won at trial, the charge is dismissed. During the period of the deferred judgment, the case is unresolved. The plea has entered but judgment and sentence has been deferred.
Why is that so dreaded? Sometimes you are absolutely positively not guilty of the charge. A deferred judgment is hard to reject. In cases where a defendant has virtually no criminal history and the facts and evidence don’t help your defense, a deferred judgment is a fantastic way to resolve a case. In the end the charge goes away just like you won at trial. A deferred judgment is a great way to avoid a felony, domestic violence or drug conviction. A deferred judgment is a great way to preserve your criminal record.
Deferred judgments are dreaded in cases where the requirements are burdensome. In domestic violence cases, the deferred judgment requires the completion of domestic violence classes which can last up to 36 weeks. In drug cases, often times the requirements include drug treatment and monitored sobriety. In theft cases, the payment of restitution is often a requirement.
As an attorney it is difficult to advise a client to reject a deferred judgment. With a deferred judgment you control the outcome. You take the power away from the jury and if you complete the requirements, your charge is dismissed. When you reject a deferred judgment offer, you risk losing your case, losing a clean record and losing the rights that go with losing your case. In felony cases, you risk becoming a felon. In domestic violence cases, if a prosecutor is willing to give you a deferred judgment, you control whether you will have a domestic violence conviction, which can mean the loss of your gun rights. In a drug case, you control whether you will have a drug conviction. In a felony case, you control whether you will be a convicted felon. There are no certainties when you take a case to trial. With a deferred judgment you take complete control of the outcome
Whether to take a deferred judgment is always the client’s choice. If there is any chance of conviction, any evidence pointing towards guilt, any risk of losing at trial, it is always safe to take the deferred judgment, complete the requirements and move on with your life.
It is important to note: that immigration law considers deferred judgments as convictions for immigration determinations. Deferred judgments to a felony, during the period of the deferred judgment you are subject to impeachment as a felon during legal proceedings. Domestic Violence deferred judgments you lose your gun rights. This article is not meant to confer legal advice. Consult your attorney to determine the consequences of any deferred judgment.