Deferred adjudication is a sentencing alternative available in the state of Texas in some criminal cases. Through a deferred adjudication, a criminal defendant has the ability to avoid a criminal conviction on his or her record.
When a criminal defendant is charged with a crime that is eligible for deferred adjudication, under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, article 42.12, Section 5(a), that individual enters a guilty plea in court. Once a guilty plea is entered, the judge presiding in the case does not actually find the defendant guilty. Rather, the judge issues an order deferring judgment in the case.
In lieu of finding the defendant guilty and convicting that individual of the crime, the judge sentences the defendant to a term of probation. If the defendant successfully completes the term of probation ordered by the court, the judge will dismiss the criminal case pending against the defendant. On the other hand, if the defendant fails to successfully complete the court-ordered term of probation, he or she automatically will be convicted of the underlying crime.
If the defendant fails to complete the probationary term and is convicted despite the initially deferred sentence, that individual is potentially subject to the maximum sentence permitted under Texas law. For example, if the crime that is subject to the deferred adjudication calls for a sentence of between five to 10 years, a judge at his or her discretion could sentence a criminal defendant to the maximum amount of time permitted.
Under Texas law, virtually any crime is eligible for deferred adjudication. The only crimes that cannot receive a deferred adjudication in Texas are DWI, boating while intoxicated, flying while intoxicated and intoxication manslaughter.
The decision to permit a deferred adjudication is made on a case-by-case basis. Factors that come into play include a defendant's prior criminal history, the nature of the offense charges, whether violence was involved and whether anyone was injured as a result of the crime.
Although a probationary term is involved in a deferred adjudication in Texas, there are some significant differences between deferred adjudication and straight probation.
In the case of a sentence of straight probation handed down by a Texas court, an individual has been convicted of a crime. If an individual successfully serves the term of probation, that person is discharged and the case is closed; however, it is not dismissed. The case remains on a person's criminal history record as a conviction.
As has been discussed, there is no conviction prior to the commencement of probation in a deferred adjudication. Moreover, the case is dismissed if the probationary term is concluded successfully in a deferred adjudication.
The primary benefit obtained by a person who receives deferred adjudication is avoiding a criminal conviction. Although some employers do ask about deferred adjudications, many do not. In other words, if a person has a deferred adjudication and successfully completed it, that individual can lawfully state that he or she has not been convicted of that crime. In addition, if a person takes some additional steps, which are discussed in a moment, the deferred adjudication is capable of being shielded from public view or third party access.
Although there are some benefits to obtaining a deferred adjudication, the reality is that receiving a deferred adjudication is not without negative collateral consequences. For example, the issue of a deferred adjudication on a person's record can come into play when seeking employment or certain types of professional licenses.
Historically, a standard question on an employment or professional license application involved being convicted of a crime generally or a felony more specifically. The reality is that many employers, and professional license applications in the state of Texas, now also inquire if a person has received a deferred adjudication. For example, some of the agencies that oversee professional licenses in the Lone Star State explicitly advise applicants that deferred adjudications are reviewed as closely and considered as serious as an actual conviction for a crime.
A person needs to keep in mind that a deferred sentence, even when successfully completed, does appear on a person's criminal history record unless further action is taken to prevent disclosure. The case will not show as a conviction. Nonetheless, the crime charged will appear and the record will reveal that the defendant received a deferred sentence in the case. If the record is complete, it will disclose that the deferred sentence was served successfully and the case ultimately was dismissed. Nonetheless, the act of the court in dismissing the case once a deferred sentence is served successfully does not eliminate the case from an individual's criminal history record.
When a person successfully completes the probation sentence in a deferred adjudication case, that individual can file what is called a petition for non-disclosure. Through a petition for non-disclosure, a person can ask the court to seal the record associated with the deferred adjudication.
By taking this step, and having the request granted by the court, a prospective employer, a property owner or manager and other third parties are not able to obtain information about the case and crime associated with the deferred adjudication.
A person interested in obtaining a deferred adjudication or pursuing a petition of non-disclosure can best achieve positive results by retaining the services of an experienced attorney.
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