What is Deferred Adjudication?

If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, they may be facing a deferred adjudication or trying to petition a judge for deferred adjudication instead of a probation. But what does deferred adjudication mean and how does it work?

What is a Deferred Adjudication?

The term deferred adjudication literally means delayed judgment. It gets its name from its function of formally deferring judgment for criminal actions or charges. Instead of a judge immediately deciding what the punishment is for the crime(s), in a deferred adjudication they postpone or delay that judgment until they see whether the convicted person has truly changed or has better control over their behavior, something that they will demonstrate by completing the terms of their deferred adjudication.

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The Difference Between Probation and Deferred Adjudication

Deferred adjudication is a legal alternative to probation. While probation remains on your criminal record, deferred adjudication comes with the option of being removed from your criminal record. Rather than a judge deciding immediately that you are on probation as part of your conviction, in deferred adjudication, the judge postpones judgment until they have seen whether or not you can follow through with the rules of your deferred adjudication.

When you use deferred adjudication, as opposed to probation, you enter into a probation period during which time you are given a list of what you have to do or not do, and for how long. Instead of an immediate criminal conviction, deferred adjudication in Texas or other states allows you to enter into community supervision. Your ability to use this law is based on your criminal case and criminal history. It is something often reserved for first-time offenders but this is based on the court and the judge. 

Deferred adjudication and probation are very similar but the ways in which they differ are incredibly important for your situation.

Probation

Probation is part of your sentencing that includes terms such as not leaving your state, checking in with a probation officer every week, attending certain classes, and doing all of this for a predetermined length of time, usually one or three years. Probation remains on your permanent record so employers and potential landlords will be able to see it when they conduct background check. The terms of your probation are final and these terms are an official part of your conviction, so they are not likely to be changed and failure to follow through with these conditions can result in secondary criminal charges and further punishment.

Deferred Adjudication

Deferred adjudication is a type of conviction or punishment for a crime. With deferred adjudication, you do not go to jail but instead you are released into your community. As such, you serve your punishment time within your community. There are several rules associated with deferred adjudication, such as where you can and cannot travel, how often you must check-in, and other classes or activities in which you must participate for a specific length of time. The charges you face for your criminal activity are contingent upon you completing the terms of your deferred adjudication. If you complete the terms successfully, no other charges go on your record and you can have the deferred adjudication itself removed. However, if you fail to complete the terms of the deferred adjudication, then you face even higher charges for your crimes than you did originally.

How Long Does Deferred Adjudication Last? 

The length of deferred adjudication is based entirely on the specific situation. It can be a very lengthy process, usually between 1 and 3 years, similar to probation. A judge will likely decide in conjunction with your attorney the length of the adjudication. 

What Happens When You Complete Deferred Adjudication?

When you complete the deferred adjudication, the judge will consider the matter complete. Similar to probation, the deferred adjudication will remain on your record, but with deferred adjudication, you have the opportunity to file a document with the court to have it removed. 

It is completely up to the accused to pursue removing the adjudication, it will not be automatically removed. It is your responsibility to file the petition to have it taken from your record so that no potential employer or landlord can see it.

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Is Deferred Adjudication A Conviction?

On its own, a deferred adjudication is not a conviction. However, deferred adjudication does provide parameters by which you must live and operate. Similar to probation, these parameters will likely include remaining within a given area, checking in with a probation officer or similar officer regularly, and perhaps participation in certain programs.

Deferred adjudication can become a conviction if you fail to complete any of the parameters or terms. For this reason, it may not be the best option to pursue depending on your situation.

For example:  

Tina was recently arrested for a misdemeanor. She has no history of criminal conviction and was an active honor student and volunteer in her community. The court decided that because she did not have a history of any crimes or criminal behavior nor did she have an arrest record, she could be put on deferred adjudication instead of probation. Tina is very likely to complete the terms of the adjudication and as such was happy to accept the terms.

By comparison, John has a history of arrests and convictions for misdemeanors as well as one felony. Even though the court decided that he could face deferred adjudication instead of probation, John knew that he was unlikely to complete all of the terms because of his history of failing to complete the terms of his probation, an action that landed him with his one felony charge. Due to his fear of failure, and knowing that the convictions would be much worse if he failed to follow the terms of his deferred adjudication, John decided that he would take the probation instead. 

There are ways you can get deferred adjudication for a felony charge or misdemeanor. For example: if you are charged with a second degree felony, Texas law and a district attorney might decide that because of your previous criminal cases you do not qualify for a deferred adjudication, or they will decide that deferred adjudication is better than probation for your situation. 

Conclusions

There are many situations where you might prefer deferred adjudication, especially if you are very likely to complete the terms of your adjudication and file the petition to have it removed from your record. Deferred adjudication is a good opportunity for people who do not want a permanent mark on their criminal record like what occurs in probation. Within the attorney-client relationship, you can talk to a law firm about legal advice concerning deferred adjudication. An attorney can answer questions pertaining to your situation and assess the likelihood of both getting it, and whether it is the right option for you. 

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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