What Is Deferred Adjudication in Texas?

A criminal conviction can have a serious impact on your life. Beyond the actual sentence–including the possibility of jail time–a conviction of any kind can make it harder to get a job, receive certain government benefits, and even exercise basic civil rights such as voting. One way to avoid the immediate and collateral consequences of a conviction is to seek a [deferred adjudication]. This is a special type of community supervision (probation) available in many–though not all–Texas criminal cases.

When Is Deferred Adjudication Available, and How Long Will It Last?

Section 42A, Subchapter C of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure spells out the parameters of deferred adjudication in Texas. The first, and most important, thing to note is that no defendant has the right to a deferred adjudication. It is granted at the discretion of the trial judge, who must decide whether deferred adjudication is in “the best interest of society” as well as the defendant.

The second thing is that deferred adjudication requires the defendant to initially enter a guilty or “no contest” plea. In effect, the defendant is foregoing the right to have his or her case tried by a jury. Instead, the judge conducts a separate hearing to determine whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence to “substantiate the defendant’s guilt.” Once the judge makes that determination, the court will then “defer further proceedings” without formally entering a final judgment of guilt.

Basically, the court suspends the case for a period of time, during which the defendant is on probation. The amount of time will vary depending on the type of crime and the specific facts of the case. Section 42A.103 establishes the following maximum time limits for deferred adjudication:

  • In felony cases, no more than 10 years; and
  • In misdemeanor cases, no more than 2 years; but
  • In criminal cases involving certain sex crimes (aggravated sexual assault, indecency with a child, etc.) deferred adjudication must last at least 5 years.

Also note there are some crimes where deferred adjudication is not permitted by law, including any offense that involves drunk driving.

What Conditions Apply to a Deferred Adjudication Probation?

It is critical for a defendant who receives deferred adjudication to strictly comply with all probation terms set by the court. Any probation violation, even one that is inadvertent or unintentional, may provide grounds for revoking community supervision and proceeding to an immediate adjudication of the original criminal charge. And that can mean a defendant is suddenly faced with the prospect of a criminal conviction and prison time.

So what exactly are the terms of probation or community supervision? The answer will vary somewhat from case to case. If you find yourself in a deferred adjudication situation, the court will give you a detailed list of conditions. But here are some of the standard conditions applicable to most Texas residents on probation:

  • Do not commit any further crimes under state or federal law;
  • Do not use illegal drugs or alcohol (you can be required to take a urine test);
  • Do not associate with persons or places with a “disreputable or harmful character”;
  • Report to your probation officer at least once a month, or as otherwise directed;
  • Allow your probation officer to visit your home or workplace as necessary;
  • Maintain “suitable employment,” and if your working situation changes, report that information to your probation officer within 48 hours;
  • Do not move out of your home county without permission from your probation officer or the judge responsible for your case;
  • Pay any fines or fees required by law, which may include restitution to the victim of your alleged crime; and
  • Keep current on all child support obligations.

Once again, if you do not follow any of your probation conditions, the prosecution may file a petition to end your deferred adjudication and sentence you for the original crime. By law, you have the right to a hearing before the judge before this happens. But unlike a criminal trial, where all charges must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” in an action to revoke probation, the prosecution only needs to show a violation occurred by a “preponderance of the evidence,” a much lower standard.

Work With an Experienced Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Assuming you complete probation without incident, deferred adjudication will ultimately lead to dismissal of the original charge. While this means there will not be a conviction on your record, this does not automatically erase the records of the arrest itself. This requires a separate legal proceeding to seal your criminal record.

There are also cases where deferred adjudication may not be in a defendant’s best interest. That is why it is important to work with an experienced criminal lawyer in Collin County whenever you are facing any kind of felony or misdemeanor charge. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC today to speak

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