What Is Deferred Adjudication In Texas, and Is It For You?

Dallas, TX , USA, 12/08/2020 / John Helms /

When I tell clients that they may be eligible for deferred adjudication in Texas, they often, understandably, look at me like I am speaking a foreign language.  In this article, I will explain what deferred adjudication means and why it might be a very good option in your case.

“Deferred” means to put something off until later.  You may have heard, in football, that the team that wins the coin toss can decide to “defer the decision until the second half.”  This means that they can decide what they want to do just before the second half starts instead of before the opening kickoff.  

“Adjudication” means to decide whether someone is guilty or not guilty.  This is a “judicial” function.  

So, “deferred adjudication” means that the court will put off deciding whether or not you are guilty until later.

What Is Deferred Adjudication In Texas, and Is It For You?

If you get deferred adjudication it means that you have to admit that you did what you are accused of doing, but the judge does not find you guilty at that time.  Instead, you are put on probation for a period of time, and the case basically lies dormant.  At the end of the probation period if you have done everything you are supposed to do like paying fines and community service, and if you have stayed out of trouble, the judge dismisses the case, and you are never actually found guilty or convicted.  Then, after a waiting period (how long depends on the type of case), you can ask the judge to seal the record of your deferred adjudication so that only law enforcement, and not the public, can see it.  It also may be possible to convince a judge to release you before the entire probation period is over, if you can show that you have done a really good job complying with your probation.

This can be a great benefit to you because if you comply with your probation you will not have a conviction on your record.  

On the other hand, deferred adjudication carries some significant risk.  If you violate the conditions of your probation, such as by committing another crime or by not reporting to your probation officer, the judge can revoke your probation and find you guilty of the original crime.  And to do that, the judge does not have to find you guilty of the new crime, or of failing to report, beyond a reasonable doubt.  The judge just has to be convinced that it is more likely than not that you committed the new crime.  Even worse, you cannot deny that you committed the original crime.  Remember that in order to get deferred adjudication you had to admit that you did what you were accused of doing.  If the judge believes you committed a new crime the judge can use that admission to find you guilty of the original crime.  If that happens the judge can sentence you to any punishment that the law allows for the original crime.

So, deferred adjudication can have very significant benefits but with some serious risks.  The question is can you really stay out of trouble for the entire probation period and do everything you are supposed to do?  For some people on a short probation period that may be easy.  For others if the probation period is long or if they have a history of breaking the law, even in small ways, it may be hard to stay out of trouble.  

Not everyone is eligible for deferred adjudication.  Some crimes do not allow it.  Until September 2019, for example, you could not get deferred adjudication for a first DWI in Texas.  Now you can, but only if your blood alcohol content was not 0.15 or higher, and only if you do not have a commercial driver’s license.  Also if you get deferred adjudication for a first DWI, even if you complete your probation successfully, and the case is dismissed, another DWI will still count as your second DWI.

There are other possible catches to deferred adjudication.  For example, if you get deferred adjudication for a domestic violence offense you will not be able to possess a firearm for the rest of your life under federal law even if there is no conviction.

Deferred adjudication could be a great benefit to you.  To find out whether you are eligible for it and what risks and consequences there are, you should consult an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer.  https://johnhelms.attorney/


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Source: John Helms

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