Deferred Prosecution and Deferred Judgment

For someone who makes a mistake that results in a criminal charge, there are sometimes options that make it possible to avoid criminal penalties and have an opportunity to clear your record if you stay out of trouble.

There are several programs like deferred prosecution, deferred judgment, and diversion programs that exist from state to state. These programs, though slightly different, are all designed to give an offender accused of a crime a second chance. There are specific programs that emphasize rehabilitation, and treatment. Many are administered through special drug courts, DUI courts, or juvenile courts for juvenile offenders.

Although the specifics vary from state to state, programs like deferred prosecution and deferred judgment begin with a term of probation and end with the criminal charges being dropped. Unlike being sentenced to probation, this probationary term occurs prior to sentencing and even prior to trial.

Programs like this are nearly always the result of a plea agreement.

Am I eligible for deferred prosecution or deferred judgment?

The most common offenses seen being diverted are drug offenses and misdemeanor charges. It isn’t very often that you will see violent or serious felony charges qualifying for a diversion program. In most states certain crimes are automatically not eligible for these programs.

In most situations you must be a first-time offender to qualify. If you have a criminal history, you are automatically not eligible for deferred prosecution.

What’s the difference between deferred prosecution and deferred judgment?

Deferred judgment occurs after you admit to all or part of the charges against you but before that plea is entered on the record. You are not sentenced and instead serve a period of probation, deferring judgment. In some states like Maryland, this is called probation before judgment (PBJ).

Deferred prosecution, on the other hand, does not require a guilty plea. You are simply required to serve the probation before you are taken to court on the charges.

In some states, these terms are used interchangeably, while other states only use one or the other. Both programs are quite similar and often simply referred to as “diversion” programs.

To learn more specifics about the programs like this available in your state, a consultation with a local defense lawyer is necessary.

How long will I be on probation with deferred prosecution?

Your probationary term is entirely up to the prosecution with approval from the judge. Because this is considered a plea agreement, you will know the length of time before you agree to the program.

Usually, because these programs are set aside for first-time offenders, the probationary term is less than one year.

What are the rules while on probation?

Probationary rules during deferred prosecution and deferred judgment cases are just like probationary rules after sentencing. There are many potential terms and conditions you will be required to abide by. For a complete list of possible rules, see our Probation page.

What if I violate the terms of the probation?

If you break the rules of probation while under supervision, the prosecutor can move forward with the charges against you, seeking maximum penalties for your original crime. This needs to be avoided in all cases as those penalties were primarily the reason you agreed to this program in the first place.

This is the biggest downside to a deferred prosecution agreement. If you fail to complete the program, you will very likely face much harsher punishment than if you simply plead guilty in the first place. And to get into a program, you have to essentially admit to the facts against you in advance. Therefore, if you don’t complete the program, and prosecution resumes, that evidence will hurt you. It can be very difficult to go back and win a case if you have to re-fight the charge.

If you are facing violation of the terms of probation in conjunction with a deferred prosecution or deferred judgment program, the assistance of an aggressive defense lawyer is important now more than ever.

What happens after the probation period is over?

If you successfully complete your probationary period, the charges against you are dropped. While the program will be present on your criminal record, it will not show as a “conviction” and will not affect your future in quite the same way. You may also be able to get the open record sealed, so that it won’t appear on any background check.

Programs like deferred prosecution give people accused of a first-time criminal offense an opportunity to not let a one-time mistake follow them for life. If you are facing criminal charges, you may be eligible for a program like this. Contact our attorneys for a free consultation on your case and a look at the programs available in your state.

NOTE: The implementation for deferred judgment/deferred prosecution programs vary widely from state to state, and even between courts in the same state. This is a very general overview of how such programs work. The details in your case many be very different. Consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area to find out exactly how such a program would work in your case.