The Pros and Cons of Deferred Adjudication in Texas

Criminal convictions often make life much harder. In many cases, even misdemeanor convictions may make it difficult or impossible to obtain student financial aid, find a good job, or pursue certain careers. So, many people are willing to take risks if it means keeping their records clean.

Deferred adjudication is just such a risk. In the right circumstances, deferred adjudication is basically a shortcut to expungement. However, in the wrong circumstances, Article 42A Subchapter C of the Texas Code of Criminal procedure makes a bad situation much worse.

Why Deferred is a Good Idea

In terms of its actual effect on the defendant, there’s no difference between deferred adjudication and regular probation. IN both cases, the defendant pleads guilty or no contest before the judge. And, the probation department imposes various conditions, such as regular reporting, performing community service, paying fines, staying out of trouble, and submitting to drug or alcohol tests.

Legally, however, there is a significant difference between the two. If defendants receive regular probation, the conviction goes onto their permanent records. But if the judge defers further legal proceedings at the time of the plea, the prosecutor dismisses the case if the defendant successfully completes probation.

The effect is more like record sealing than actual expungement. Court records show that the charges were dismissed, but generally, the records do not provide an explanation for the dismissal. So, people can believe what they want to believe.

When Deferred is a Bad Idea

Assume Tim is charged with second degree aggravated assault (two to twenty years in prison). Since the victim is reluctant to testify and Tim has no criminal history, the Parker County prosecutor offeres deferred adjudication probation.

In most cases, deferred adjudication is good news for people like Tim, as outlined above. But now, here’s the bad news.

If Tim receives regular probation, a set sentence is suspended for a set period of time. Let’s assume the judge suspends a four-year sentence for five years. But if Tim, receives deferred adjudication, the suspended sentence is open-ended. So, if Tim violates his five-year deferred adjudication probation, the judge could sentence him to anything up to the maximum twenty years.

Most probation revocation motions cite major violations, like committing a new offense or repeated failure to report. But the district attorney could also file charges over technical violations, like not reporting a change of address.

The Bottom Line

If you think you are a good canididate for probation, deferred is usually a good option. But if you have problems accepting authority or being certain places at certain times, deferred may not be for you.

Deferred adjudication is a double-edged sword. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Parker County and nearby jurisdictions.