It can be very scary venturing into the world of criminal law for the first time. The sheer amount of information and the fear of the unknown can be terrifyingly overwhelming. One of the most common mix-ups is confusing straight probation and deferred adjudication. Yes, they both are types of community supervision, but they differ in several key areas.
This series of articles will touch on the differences of each. Not only the differences in how they are initially implemented, but also how each gets dismissed, what happens if you screw up while on each, and finally ways to get your record sealed or expunged. For ease moving forward let’s call straight probation just probation and deferred adjudication just deferred.
Similarities of Deferred Adjudication and Probation
The distinction between the two is an important one to realize and being fully informed of the differences can go a long way to easing your stress. Probation or deferred; conviction or dismissal. Let’s start by examining the similarities.
Community supervision is defined in Article 42.12 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as,
the placement of a defendant by a court under a continuum of programs and sanctions, with conditions imposed by the court for a specified period during which: (A) criminal proceedings are deferred without an adjudication of guilt; or (B) a sentence of imprisonment or confinement, imprisonment and fine, or confinement and fine, is probated and the imposition of sentence is suspended in whole or in part.
Thus, from the outset we are able to see that both deferred and probation are types of community supervision. Likewise, both probation and deferred provide a way of escaping a prison or jail sentence. But, that does not mean you are 100% free from oversight.
There are, of course, certain requirements you must follow while on community supervision – whether probation or deferred – such as monthly meetings with a probation officer, random urinalysis screens (UAs for short), and community service hours. Some of these requirements are geared towards the requisite crime committed. For instance, if you receive community supervision for theft you will likely be required to take a Theft Intervention Program, or TIPS for short. On the other hand, if you receive community supervision for a DWI you will likely be required to take an alcohol and drug awareness course. Basically, these requirements act as a trade of sorts. You don’t have to serve a prison or jail sentence, but you are obligated to complete the requirements instead.
Differences of Deferred Adjudication and Probation
On the flip side, there are a number of key differences between probation and deferred. For starters, there are some crimes that do not allow for a deferred. These mostly entail your sexual crimes and most crimes involving intoxication – DWI, BWI, etc. For these crimes only a straight probation is available. The most important distinction, however, involves your criminal record.
Probation basically means that you have agreed to plead guilty or no contest, the judge accepts your plea then finds you guilty, and finally sentences you to a certain amount of time either in county jail or state prison. Instead of carrying out the sentence and sending you to jail or prison, the judge “probates” or suspends the imposition of that sentence. You are then released to the community supervision department to begin your probation requirements. At that point in time, you are free from custody and allowed to continue living your life – albeit with the community supervision department watching closely.
Deferred is quite similar, except in one crucial detail. Comparable to probation, deferred usually entails a plea bargain situation in which the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to an offense. The judge accepts your plea but, rather than finding you guilty as with probation, defers any further proceeding. You are then handed over to community supervision without an actual adjudication of guilt.
So, what do these differences mean? Basically, probation equates to a suspended sentence after being found guilty whereas deferred equates to pausing the proceedings without an actual finding of guilt. This is where the long-term effects become realized.
With probation the conviction stays on your record; a deferred does not. Now, a deferred does not mean that the entire record of your arrest and charge vanishes as well – those records will still exist. A deferred simply does not end in a conviction. If you follow the community supervision guidelines the judge will discharge you and dismiss the case. At that point, it is then necessary to file a petition for non-disclosure so that the arrest and charge are sealed from the general public.
In the end, community supervision can be either straight probation or deferred adjudication. Which one you end up with largely depends on the nature of the case and your criminal record. When the time comes, knowing the differences explained above can make for an easier decision as to plea or not to plea.