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What Is a Suspended Sentence?

A suspended sentence is the judicial delay of a defendant's duty to start serving a sentence once he or she has been convicted or found guilty, so that the defendant is able to perform an intervening probation period. So long as the criminal defendant does not break the law an additional time during the probationary period and is able to meet the specific conditions set by the court for probation, the sitting judge normally eliminates the sentence entirely.

What Is the Difference Between a Suspended Sentence and a Deferred Sentence?

A suspended sentence usually remains on the defendant's criminal record permanently. It is a fixture of the defendant's criminal history forever. A deferred sentence, on the other hand, usually will not remain on the criminal defendant's record on a permanent basis.

Who Normally Qualifies for a Suspended Sentence?

In the United States, judges typically assign suspended sentences to first-time offenders convicted of minor crimes. An example of a minor crime would be a lesser misdemeanor or minor drug offense such as the first time possession of marijuana, in most jurisdictions. Prosecutors often make recommendations to the court for suspended sentences to be passed down for certain criminal defendants during the plea bargain process, as well. Suspended sentences are used in many criminal justice settings to attempt to mitigate the impact and severity of penalties and sanctions on criminal defendants.

In some U.S. jurisdictions, the criminal defendant who is found guilty will have his or her particular offense included in his or her criminal record even after satisfactorily and completely serving a probation period. In other instances, however, the deferred adjudication system or process prohibits the conviction from being included in a person's permanent record, assuming that he or she satisfactorily and sufficiently completes the probation period.

What Is the Impact of Sentencing Reforms on Suspended Sentences?

In the U.S. federal criminal court system, a judge's ability to pass down suspended sentences has actually been formally abolished by statute. That judicial authority was abolished by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. The U.S. Sentencing Commission was responsible for enacting those sweeping, large-scale reforms in 1984. American jurisprudence has also affirmed the abolishment of a judge's ability to suspend sentences for criminal defendants in the landmark case of Mistretta v. United States.