Deferred Adjudication in Texas: What Is It?

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If you commit a crime, you may seek a free consultation at a law firm with a criminal defense attorney as to your plea options.

Lawyers may advise you to take a deferred adjudication plea deal right off the bat, but you shouldn’t take their word for it immediately. 

This article aims to inform you all about deferred adjudication in the state of Texas, so you can take charge of your attorney-client relationship by asking all the questions you need to ensure that the criminal justice system works in your favor. 

What is Deferred Adjudication?

Deferred adjudication is a plea bargain in which an offender pleads guilty or no contest to what he is being charged for.

In exchange for the guilty plea, not only does he avoid jail time, but he also gets the opportunity to have the charges dismissed or expunged from his criminal record.

Expunction can occur only upon completing the duties the court assigns to him over a designated period.

To understand what deferred adjudication is, we must review some legal vocabulary and break down terms into categories.

First, you must understand the term community supervision, which, in Texas, means probation.

The Texas penal code allows for two kinds of community supervision sentences:

  1. Community Supervision – refers to straight probation or a period in which an offender must carry out the duties assigned to him by the courts to stay out of jail.
  2. Deferred adjudication – a type of community supervision that allows for the possibility of dismissal or expungement of a formal charge or conviction, as well as the opportunity to have the deferred adjudication concealed (sealed) from a criminal record. 

Whether you receive straight probation or deferred adjudication, the terms of your community supervision will include the following duties and requirements:

  • Drug treatment or rehabilitation program
  • Counseling
  • Community service
  • No criminal activity
  • Supervision by a parole officer or other law enforcement officer

Failure to carry out and abide by these duties will result in a guilty conviction and jail time.

Adjudicate means “finding guilty,” and deferred means “to put off.” So, the judge is putting off finding you guilty of criminal charges until you finish your community supervision.

If you violate your deferred adjudication conditions, the judge will adjudicate or find you guilty, and you will serve time in prison. 

There are, of course, terms and conditions surrounding deferred adjudication, which we will cover in the next section. 

Deferred Adjudication vs. Probation

As we’ve mentioned, deferred adjudication is a type of probation, but there are more significant differences to consider.

For example, you can receive a jury’s probation sentencing, but you cannot receive a jury’s deferred adjudication sentencing.

In other words, you cannot contest your criminal charges, nor can you go to trial.

Another difference between probation and deferred adjudication is that with probation, criminal charges remain on your criminal record even when you complete the punishment period.

With deferred adjudication, you can apply for non-disclosure, which means you can have criminal charges sealed or expunged from your record so that when employers do a criminal background check, they do not see the conviction you incurred.

Unfortunately, employers will be able to know that you completed a deferred adjudication if they do a criminal background check. 

The last major difference between probation and deferred adjudication is the consequences you receive for violating the terms of your community supervision.

While the violation of both probation and deferred adjudication will result in jail time, with probation, you generally serve the minimum amount of jail time or a smaller portion of the maximum sentence.

With deferred adjudication, a violation results in more jail time served than probation. 

Example:

Alan robs a liquor store, a second-degree felony that can receive a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 20 years in prison.

He has the option of a plea bargain for either ten years of probation or deferred adjudication. The probation deal has a set prison sentence of 5 years probated for ten years of probation.

This means that if he violates parole in any way, he has to serve five years in prison.

Suppose Alan decides to defer adjudication for a ten-year community supervision period.

In that case, he is liable for the entire ten years as there is no set prison sentence agreed upon if there’s a violation of community supervision terms.

Therefore, if Alan violates his community supervision, it is likely that he will serve the full ten years of jail time, which is the maximum prison sentence. 

Common violations

Minor misdemeanors like DWIs or DWLS are not available for deferred adjudication.

There are also certain misdemeanors and felonies for which it is easier to get the non-disclosure petition filed. Misdemeanors are lesser crimes than felonies, so you can generally apply for non-disclosure immediately.

However, violent misdemeanor charges like assault or unlawful weapon-carry require a 2-year waiting period after you’ve completed deferred adjudication before you can try to get an expungement of charges from your criminal history. 

Felonies require a 5-year waiting period after you complete your deferred adjudication before you can file for non-disclosure.

Additionally, felonies that revolve around family violence are not eligible for non-disclosure and will remain on your criminal record forever. 

Is Deferred Adjudication Worth It?

In short, it depends.

While most lawyers will urge you to plead guilty and take the deferred adjudication deal, you might want to take some time to think about what this means with your particular criminal case.

For first time offenders with misdemeanors or felonies, it is worth it to plead deferred adjudication because you will avoid a conviction on your record, and you can seal the charges against you, which will 

This is a decisive advantage that deferred adjudication has over probation. However, just because you never receive a conviction does not mean that a deferred adjudication won’t show up on your criminal history. 

Another advantage that makes deferred adjudication worth it is that you can lead a normal life in your community without many restrictions that come with straight probation.

For example, you won’t get your driver’s license revoked for a drug-related offense with deferred adjudication, but you will with straight probation. 

Costs of Deferred Adjudication

Deferred adjudication could be the right way to go if you are a first-time offender with ample motivation to serve community service or other community supervision stipulations without any slip-ups.

That said, deferred adjudication is certainly a risky choice because if you violate your probation conditions, you will receive the harshest punishment under the law. 

For example, if Gerome pleads guilty to assault and battery, which is a third-degree felony in exchange for a 10-year deferred adjudication plea deal. This type of felony receives between a two to 10-year jail time sentence.

So, Gerome must complete community supervision over ten years without any violations or other criminal charges. If Gerome violates the terms of his deferred adjudication, he can receive a full 10-year jail sentence. 

Therefore, you should know that punishment for violating your deferred adjudication is a lot harsher than straight probation.  

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does completing deferred adjudication remove a criminal charge from my record?

A major misunderstanding about deferred adjudication in Texas is that you get the charge wiped from your record when you complete your community supervision.

This is false. You have to file for non-disclosure if you want the charges expunged or sealed, and this can be a lengthy process depending on the crime in question.

2. What are the advantages of deferred adjudication?

  • No conviction
  • No jail time
  • Lack of restrictions, i.e., revoked driver’s license.
  • Expunction of charges upon successful completion of community supervision

3. What are the disadvantages of deferred adjudication?

  • Defendant must enter a guilty plea or plead no contest to a guilty charge
  • Violation of conditions could result in the maximum jail sentence
  • Certain misdemeanors and felonies cannot be expunged from your criminal record even upon completion of deferred adjudication
  • You must file for non-disclosure to have charges sealed or expunged.
  • Violent misdemeanors require a 2-year waiting period to file non-disclosure, and felonies require a 5-year waiting period to file a non-disclosure

4. What is the main difference between deferred adjudication and probation?

A deferred adjudication is a form of probation. Probation is a term that refers to letting an offender avoid a prison sentence by obeying certain conditions and requirements defined by the court. 

Deferred adjudication is a set period of probation with different stipulations than typical probation terms. Here are the man differences:

  • Deferred adjudication could get the conviction sealed or not put on your permanent criminal record, whereas, with probation, the conviction is on your permanent record.
  • If you violate deferred adjudication, you can get a longer jail sentence than if you violate straight probation.
  • If you opt to go to trial, you are no longer eligible for deferred adjudication, whereas you can go to trial and receive probation.

Conclusion

Now that you have a thorough idea of what deferred adjudication is, you have the knowledge you need to decide if it is the right plea bargain for you instead of taking your lawyer’s word for it.

For some, it may be the best plea deal for their criminal case, but certain offenses aren’t eligible for non-disclosure. In that case, you might want to opt for a trial, allowing you to beat a guilty verdict. 

About the author

After earning his MBA from Benedictine University, Ron was looking for a new challenge and stumbled on the idea of helping the formerly incarcerated.

Using what he learned, Ron developed this website as a free resource and has worked with his team​ to continue answering questions for those in need.

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