It is standard practice for criminal defense attorneys to ask prosecutors to grant deferred sentencing in Colorado (C.R.S. 18-1.3-102) for their misdemeanor clients. These defendants have a better chance of getting deferred sentencing if they have no prior criminal history and are not a threat to public safety.
Deferred sentencing definition
A Colorado criminal defense attorney's first goal is to try to get a client's charges dismissed right away. But if the prosecutors refuse, then the next best thing is for prosecutors to grant "deferred sentencing" so that the charges eventually get dismissed following a probationary period.
If the prosecution and judge agree to a deferred sentence, the defendant would initially plead guilty. But the judge would wait to impose judgment and instead order that the defendant complete various terms, such as:
- paying a fine and/or restitution,
- community service,
- not contacting certain people/ avoiding certain locations,
- writing an apology letter,
- not leaving the state,
- attending school or a job,
- anger management classes,
- unannounced drug testing,
- counseling (such as AA), and/or
- avoiding further arrests
If the defendant successfully completes all these terms in the allotted period of time, the guilty plea would be withdrawn. Then the judge would dismiss the case so that there is no conviction. (Note that by accepting a deferred judgment, the defendant waives his/her right to a trial.)
But if the defendant does not complete the terms, the judge may immediately discontinue the deferred sentencing arrangement. Then the judge would convict and sentence the defendant. And depending on the case, the sentence could include jail time.
In essence, deferred sentencing is really a delayed dismissal (as long as the defendant follows the judge's orders). The main benefit of deferred sentencing is that the defendant avoids a conviction; therefore, no conviction would show up in any future background checks.
Length of deferred sentencing for misdemeanors
Colorado judges have some discretion over how long a defendant's deferred sentencing period may last. But if the defendant is facing only misdemeanor charges, the maximum length is two (2) years. (For people facing felony charges, the maximum length of the probationary period is four (4) years.) This probationary period is usually at least six (6) months long.
Eligibility for deferred sentences
Most misdemeanor defendants are eligible for a deferred judgment in Colorado if:
- the charge is minor (i.e. drug possession for personal use, speeding, or being drunk in public)
- it is the defendant's first brush with the law
It is still possible for judges to agree for deferred judgments to defendants who do not meet the above criteria, but it is less likely.
Penalties for violating terms of deferred judgments
As discussed above, misdemeanor defendants who violate the terms of their deferred judgment may be convicted of the misdemeanor and sentenced accordingly. But not all violations necessarily result in a conviction -- in some cases, the judge gives the defendant a second chance to be compliant and merely increases the terms of the probation.
For instance, defendants who complete every term of their deferred sentencing except paying restitution may be able to get an extra 182 days to pay. They just need to show they were unable to gather the funds in time.
Learn more about alternatives to imposition of sentence in Colorado (C.R.S. 18-1.3-104).