What is a deferred adjudication?
Deferred adjudication is a common way of resolving criminal cases in Texas, but it is often misunderstood. I will attempt to correct some common misconceptions.
What it is:
A deferred adjudication in many counties must be offered by the state in plea negotiations – that is just the county custom -- but it is possible for a judge to place you on deferred adjudication as well.
In a case in which someone has been offered deferred adjudication, the defendant will plead guilty to the allegations in exchange for the finding of guilt to be “deferred” by the court for a period of time. It is a guilty plea -- it is not a dismissal of the case. The court will find that there is enough evidence to substantiate the defendant’s guilt but if the court goes along with the state’s recommendation of deferred adjudication or on his own volition decides to, the conviction will not be entered.
You waive your constitutional rights when entering into a deferred adjudication. You waive your right to a trial, a right to appeal, and a right to remain silent, and these rights cannot be restored. You cannot be on deferred for a year and then decide you want a trial --- that ship has sailed and you cannot change your mind.
If there is strong evidence of guilt, a deferred can be a good resolution, but if it is a weak case, you may want to go ahead and press for a trial. A deferred adjudication is a serious undertaking. Why? Because when a conviction is deferred, you are placed on a tough probation. You must abide by all the standard terms of probation, such a drug and alcohol monitoring, meeting with a probation officer, performing community service, and classes and counseling. It is not fun, and it is not easy.
If you do not do well on this deferred probation, you will be subject to a “motion to adjudicate guilt” outlining why you no longer deserve to have a deferred and why a conviction should be entered. This motion causes a warrant to issue, but you are entitled to a bond amount being set by a judge. Most judges are very slow to give personal bonds on a probation case, so you are looking at having to bond out with a bail bonds man.
If you plead true to these allegations in the motion to adjudicate, you may be continued on a deferred, but you also may be convicted and placed on a “straight” probation OR you may be placed in the penitentiary.
NOTE: Deferred adjudications that are done successfully are NOT automatically sealed. Many times, you are eligible for the case to be sealed, but it is not done the minute you are released. You must petition for it and get a court order in a separate styled case. Once it is sealed, law enforcement and the state’s prosecutors will still be able to see that you were placed on deferred.
ALSO NOTE: Deferred adjudication is a conviction for immigration purposes. The government only cares that you pled guilty – not that the conviction was deferred. They care about your admission – not what the court did after that.
LAST NOTE: There are some criminal offenses in which deferred adjudication is not an option. The most common instance of this is DWI – the state CANNOT offer a deferred in a DWI and the judge CANNOT extend that to those charged with DWI. It is not possible.
Deferreds are not an easy undertaking. It is advisable to only accept one if there is substantial evidence of your guilt and the risks of trial are too high. If you are an immigrant with potential consequences of a conviction, you will not benefit from deferred. If you are not ready to abstain from drugs and alcohol, deferred is not going to work. I talk to a lot of people who “wish” they had never taken a deferred and tell me “the case was weak” but they pled to get it over with or get out of jail. Don’t be one of those people.