If you are convicted at trial or plead guilty to a crime for which the judge can sentence you to jail or prison, the judge can suspend all or part of the sentence and place you on probation (supervised or unsupervised). A suspended sentence can be an excellent alternative to serving a lengthy jail or prison sentence.
If the judge suspends all the jail or prison time, you will not have to serve any time. If the judge suspends part of the jail or prison sentence, you will have to serve some time incarcerated, but will be able to serve the rest of the time on probation. Once you successfully complete the period of probation, the court considers the sentence for the crime served.
A suspended sentence usually is available in any state court, but is at the judge's discretion. Any defendant can request a suspended sentence, but no defendant is entitled to this sentencing option. If the state's criminal laws provide a mandatory minimum jail or prison sentence for the crime committed, the judge cannot suspend that sentence. For instance, if the law requires that a person convicted of a second offense of forgery involving more than $10,000 serve a mandatory minimum of one year in prison, the judge must impose that prison sentence but also may sentence the defendant to two more years in prison and suspend that portion of the sentence.
Prosecutors often are willing to include a suspended sentence in a plea bargain if the defendant has a minimal criminal history or there are mitigating circumstances, or both. The sentence agreement is subject to the judge's approval. If a defendant is convicted at trial, the defense can request that the judge impose a suspended sentence. If the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty to a particularly violent crime or has an extensive criminal history, the prosecutor is less likely to agree to and the judge is less likely to impose a suspended sentence.
When a defendant receives a suspended sentence and is placed on unsupervised probation, the court usually will impose some conditions on the defendant such as no new arrests, obeying all laws, no drugs or alcohol use, and a requirement that the defendant not leave the state or the county. The defendant will be expected to abide by these conditions without being required to report to a probation officer. This kind of sentence is common in misdemeanor cases.
A defendant placed on supervised probation will be required to comply with the terms of supervised probation, which can include reporting to a probation officer as directed, complying with a curfew, submitting to random drug testing, no new arrests, maintaining employment, no weapons, no association with known criminals or felons, and possibly treatment such as counseling.
If a person serving a suspended sentence violates the terms of probation, the court can revoke the suspended sentence and require the defendant to serve the remainder of the sentence in jail or prison. Typically, the prosecutor and the defense will negotiate and try to reach an agreement on the revocation and remaining sentence. If the violation was minor – such as one missed therapy appointment or check-in with a probation officer – the prosecutor might agree to or the court might impose a short sentence, such as 30 days, and then reinstate the suspended sentence. If the violation is more serious – for instance, the defendant has been arrested for another serious crime, has had numerous violations, had not even signed up for counseling, has failed more than one drug test, or let an old criminal associate move in to his apartment – the defendant most likely will have to serve more time, if not all of the remaining time on his sentence, in jail or prison.
An attorney can assist you in addressing your sentencing options if you are convicted or decide to plead guilty to a crime. Contact an attorney as soon as you learn you have been charged with any crime so that you will have representation throughout the entire criminal process.