Very often, criminal cases are resolved by a defendant waiving trial and other statutory and constitutional rights and being placed on probation. Of course, if you’ve never been found guilty of a felony in any State or Federal court, you are almost always eligible to receive probation from a jury or judge if the sentence is 10 years or more.
Two Kinds of Probation – Regular / Straight Probation vs. Deferred Adjudication Probation
A judge or jury may sentence you to probation if you are found guilty or you plead guilty of a crime. Example: If you committed a third-degree felony, which carries a sentence from 2 to 10 years, you may be sentenced to 3 years in prison or State Jail, yet be placed on probation for 5 years. This means that you will be required to report to a probation officer, usually monthly, and keep the rules of probation for 5 years.
The difference: Regarding Regular Probation or “Straight Probation”, if you violate the terms of your probation, the judge can send you to prison up to 3 years maximum. Yet, with Deferred Adjudication probation, the judge is not limited to 3 years. He/she can sentence you up to 10 years in prison.
Ok: why would you ever plead guilty and take Deferred Adjudication? It’s a “double-edged sword”. Yes, regarding the above example, if you violate the rules of probation, the judge is not limited to the 3 years in prison and can give you up to 10 years, BUT if you successfully complete Deferred Adjudication Probation, you will not have a criminal conviction on your record since the judge deferred a finding of guilt and thus never found you guilty (unlike Regular Probation). Plus, you can ask the court to enter an Order of Non-Disclosure, which means you won’t have to disclose that you pleaded guilty. This is a great benefit as you apply for jobs and try to lease an apartment, etc. (Note: Deferred Adjudication Probation is not available for DWI offenses, and you cannot receive Deferred Adjudication Probation from a jury. You have to be qualified for probation and waive jury trial to have a chance of receiving it.)
During the probationary period, you may be required to keep the rules of probation which include: meeting regularly with your probation officer; fulfilling community service requirements; and perhaps pay a fine and other fees.
A judge may choose to place you on deferred adjudication if there is sufficient evidence to find you guilty. Instead of giving you a guilty verdict, the judge may decide to defer that verdict and place you on community supervision, i.e. probation. Once you serve your probation period and fulfill all of the requirements, you will never be found guilty of that crime that you were accused of. If you fail or violate your deferred adjudication, the judge can sentence you to any of the penalties within the range of punishment for your crime.