Learn how deferred adjudication applies to your criminal defense
Deferred adjudication in Texas criminal cases refers to a specific type of probation. Essentially, it provides the defendant with an option to keep a conviction off their criminal record. After entering a “no contest” or “guilty” plea, the judge may elect not to enter the defendant’s guilty finding and instead place them on deferred adjudication probation. Only the judge may probate a sentence to deferred adjudication.
If you or your loved one were charged with a felony, deferred adjudication may keep you from going to jail or prison. By comparison, felony probation in Texas may carry a 10-year sentence. For your best chances, it’s recommended you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Do you qualify for deferred adjudication in Texas?
In order to be eligible for deferred adjudication, defendants must meet certain conditions set by the court. Although the judge won’t record a finding of guilt in your case, and a criminal conviction won’t appear on your record, entering a plea agreement that involves deferred adjudication is not a frivolous matter.
Each case is different and varying conditions apply to deferred adjudication in Texas. All are at the judge’s discretion. Commonly, the court frequently requires the defendant to meet the following conditions:
- Paying court costs and fees
- Obtaining and/or maintaining a job
- Performing community service
- Meeting regularly with a probation officer
- Submitting to counseling
- Avoiding the use of drugs/alcohol
- Obeying state and federal laws
- Avoiding new criminal behavior
Before entering your plea with the prosecutor, it’s important to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Standard probation vs. deferred adjudication
If you’re found guilty of a crime in Texas, you’re assured of receiving some form of punishment. In some instances, the presiding judge hands down substantial fines and jail time. If the judge considers that leniency is the better course in your case, you may receive deferred adjudication or probation.
Deferred adjudication differs substantially from “straight” or standard probation in Texas. The most important difference between these 2 types of alternative sentencing is that a guilty finding appears as a conviction on the defendant’s criminal record, whereas deferred adjudication doesn’t.
If you’re found guilty of a crime in Texas, the judge will sentence you. In contrast, no sentence is entered in deferred adjudication. The judge defers or puts off the acceptance of your plea.
Early termination of deferred adjudication
Under the laws of Texas, deferred adjudication (Code of Criminal Procedure 42.12, Sec. 5) is provisional, meaning the ruling doesn’t automatically end the court’s consideration of your case. The judge decides to put off or defer the guilty plea.
The case stays open as you complete court-established probationary conditions. Once these conditions are met, your case is dismissed by the judge.
However, if the conditions aren’t met, the court proceeds with the guilty finding. The judge may then proceed to sentence the defendant to prison or jail under the full range of options under the law.
Motion to adjudicate guilt of the defendant
Violation of any of the probationary conditions required in the plea agreement may prompt the court to accept the guilty plea and proceed to sentence you. The prosecutor files a “Motion to Adjudicate Guilt,” which leads to a hearing of your case.
If the judge believes that the deferred adjudication terms were violated, the court enters a conviction. At that point, your sentence will be determined under the original sentencing guidelines.
Violations of deferred adjudication
Violating an adjudication agreement is typically viewed as a straight probation violation. Each case differs, but common violations include:
- The commission of a crime. If you commit a new crime, then you violate the terms of your deferred adjudication.
- You miss a court hearing date. In many instances, the resolution of your case is on hold until the deferment is complete or a motion to adjudicate is filed against you. If for any reason you must appear in court, failure to appear is considered a violation of the terms and conditions of deferred adjudication.
- You don’t pay court-ordered restitution. If property damage occurred in the alleged commission of a crime, you may be ordered to pay for these damages under restitution. Failure to pay these funds may trigger the motion to adjudicate guilt.
- You don’t pay required court costs. You may be ordered to pay all court costs and interest. These costs include the amount the prosecutor declares was spent to prosecute the case. If you fail to pay after an order is entered, you violate the terms of the plea agreement.
- You don’t submit to counseling ordered by the court. If you’re arrested for a drug crime or driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge, you may be ordered to attend substance abuse counseling as a condition of deferred adjudication. If you don’t complete the counseling course, you’re in violation of the terms and conditions of your agreement.
- You miss a meeting with your probation officer. Don’t miss these appointments! A probation officer will be part of your life during deferred adjudication. Failure to keep meetings with the probation officer is likely to cause them to reach out to the prosecutor.
- You use alcohol or drugs. The court requires you to lead a clean and drug-free life. If you were charged with drunk driving or a crime involving drugs, the court will order you to avoid alcohol and drug use. Failing a drug test can automatically trigger the loss of deferred adjudication.
- You don’t complete the required community service. Completion of community service hours isn’t optional—and the type of community service hours must be agreed upon by the court before you complete them. Failure to comply with the terms of community service may prompt the prosecutor to file a motion to adjudicate.
- You lose a job. You must maintain employment. If you can’t keep a job, the court may terminate your deferred sentence. If you lose a job, start a new job search immediately. The court may treat your responsible reactions to job loss with leniency.
- You continue to fraternize with certain people. You may be ordered to avoid interactions with some people as part of your deferred adjudication conditions. For example, if you plead guilty to a drug charge, you will be ordered to avoid anyone known to use and/or sell drugs. If you plead guilty to harassment or assault, the court will order your avoidance of an alleged victim in the case.