Being charged with a crime can be a terrifying prospect, and you are likely going to have many questions for your attorney, but one of the most important that you will want to be answered is what happens to you because you were charged and if you are convicted. Read on to learn common terms in sentencing, and don’t forget to check out our previous posts outlining the progression of a criminal case and what cases may be eligible for expungement.
First, it is important to understand that you may be facing consequences simply for being charged with some crimes. A DUI for instance will result in an automatic suspension of your Driver’s License. If you were already on bond for another crime or on probation those could be revoked and you could be looking at jail time before you ever get to trial. It is critical that if you are on bond or probation you comply with all the terms to stay out of jail.
When you get to the stage where the government is making you an offer, it helps if you already have a baseline understanding of what some terms mean. One offer that you may get is termed as “good behavior” or sometimes “deferred prosecution” or “diversion.” All of these offers allow for your case to be dismissed if you comply with certain conditions. Drug Court and Veterans Court work much the same way. These conditions may be as simple as not being arrested for a period of 5 months, or as onerous as attending intensive outpatient rehabilitation several days a week. This is an offer that prosecutors are far more likely to give when you have no criminal history, and the crime you are charged with is non-violent. If you are comfortable with the conditions offered, this is a deal we often recommend as it allows for the dismissal of your case and your charge to be expunged. You may or may not have to enter a guilty plea or stipulation to enter into this agreement that will be set aside when everything is completed.
Another offer you may receive is for a probationary sentence. Probationary sentences require you to plead guilty and this is a conviction that carries all the collateral consequences of any conviction. When you are on probation you will have a jail or prison sentence which is suspended. The sentence being suspended means that you do not have to serve time in jail, but that if you do not comply with probation you will have to serve all or part of that sentence. So for example, if you are sentenced to 6 months in jail and suspended for a year of probation you will be on probation for a year and if you successfully complete probation you will never serve time in jail. If you’re arrested again, do not report, or break another rule of your probation you have up to 6 months that you may serve. Probation can be formal, which requires you to report to your probation officer, drug test, and follow strict rules. Probation can also be informal which merely requires you to not be arrested and not violate any of the rules that are made part of your sentence. Probation may be an option that we recommend in certain situations but is not always in your best interest.
There are also offers of straight sentences or split sentences that require you to serve time in jail. A straight sentence is just jail time. A split sentence has you serve some time, then go out on probation with a portion of your jail time suspended. Unless there are fairly extreme extenuating circumstances that make this preferable to a trial, we are unlikely to suggest these options be taken.