Deferred entry of judgment is a judicial program in which you plead guilty or no contest to the charge, but the court “defers” judgment and sentencing while you complete probation and a program.
If you successfully complete the program, the case is dismissed, and your criminal record of arrest by law enforcement can be sealed.
Though if you fail to complete the program or the terms of probation, the judge can sentence you to up to the maximum term for the charged offenses.
Note that now, you may be able to do a diversion program instead. It is the same concept as a deferred entry of judgment except that:
- you do not enter an initial guilty or no contest plea, and
- if you fail to complete the program, your charge is reinstated and you can fight it.
1. Is there a difference between deferred entry of judgment and pretrial diversion?
Yes. With a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ), you must enter a plea of guilty (or no contest) before you can go on probation in pursuit of getting the case dismissed. Then if you fail probation, you would be sentenced based on your initial plea.
With pretrial diversion, you do not have to enter a guilty or no contest plea in order to go on probation in pursuit of a dismissal. Then if you fail probation, your case would proceed as if you never entered diversion, and you have the option of going to trial. You would not be automatically sentenced.
California has two main pretrial diversion programs:
- Mental health programs (Penal Code 1001.36), and
- Misdemeanor diversion, which includes drug diversion (Penal Code 1000 PC) for minor drug crimes.
If the program is completed successfully, the charges get dropped. They can also be sealed.
If the diversion program is not completed, the criminal case is reinstated. It resumes from where it left off and leaves you vulnerable to a criminal conviction. Learn more about pretrial diversion.1
Note that many people use the terms deferred entry of judgment and pretrial diversion interchangeably.
2. What is diversion for mental health diversion?
If you have certain mental health problems, you can ask the court for diversion. You have to complete a mental health program to have your case diverted from trial.
The court has to approve the mental health treatment plan. It can be done as an inpatient or as an outpatient. It has to be completed within 2 years.
Upon successful completion, you can have your charge dismissed and sealed.
If you fail to complete your treatment, the charges will be reinstated.
Deferred entry of judgment based on mental health is a new law in California. It went into effect on June 27, 2018.2
3. Who is eligible for mental health diversion?
To be eligible, all of the following conditions need to be met:
- You suffer from a mental health condition other than pedophilia, antisocial personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder,
- That mental disorder played a significant role in the charges against you,
- A mental health expert thinks you would respond to mental health treatment,
- You agree to waive your right to a speedy trial and get treatment, and
- The court is satisfied that you do not pose an unreasonable risk to the public.3
4. What charges can be diverted through mental health diversion?
Most crimes are eligible for diversion through mental health diversion. However, serious sex crimes and violent crimes are ineligible.4
5. What is diversion for misdemeanor offenses?
If you are accused of nonviolent misdemeanors, you can ask for a diversion program, too. The pretrial program depends on your charge. It can include:
- Drug or alcohol treatment,
- Anger management classes,
- Victim restitution,
- Community service, and
If the pretrial diversion program is completed, the charge will be dismissed and sealed.
If you fail to complete your diversion program, the charge will be reinstated.5
6. What charges are eligible for misdemeanor diversion?
Only certain offenses are eligible for misdemeanor deferred entry of judgment programs. They are listed in California Penal Code 1000.
All of them are misdemeanor offenses. None of them has an element of violence or domestic violence in them. Many are minor drug possession offenses under the Health and Safety Code. You may have to complete a drug treatment program.6
7. Who is eligible to defer a misdemeanor case?
To be eligible for pretrial diversion, all of the following conditions have to be met:
- You do not have a prior conviction for a crime that would be ineligible for misdemeanor diversion in the last 5 years,
- There was no violence or threat of violence in the current allegation,
- In the current case, there is no evidence that there is also a more serious offense that would be ineligible for misdemeanor diversion, and
- You have not had a felony conviction in the last 5 years.7
8. Is deferred entry of judgment a conviction in California?
It depends on whether you violate probation.
With a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ), you enter a plea of guilty or no contest. Though the judge then holds off on entering a judgment.
Then if you complete probation, the judge never enters the judgment and dismisses the case without a conviction. Though if you do not complete probation, the court will then enter judgment, and you will be convicted.
That is why a pretrial diversion program is preferable to a DEJ. With pretrial diversion, you do not enter a guilty plea in order to go on probation. In the event you violate probation, you still get to fight the underlying charge – you are not automatically convicted like with a DEJ.
See our related article on record expungements.
- See California Senate Bill 215. California Penal Code 1001.36 PC. California Penal Code 1000 PC. See, for example, Deferred Entry of Judgment, Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento; Deferred Entry of Judgment, County of San Mateo; Deferred Entry of Judgment, Orange County Superior Court.
- California Senate Bill 215. See also People v. Rodriguez (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2021) 68 Cal. App. 5th 584.
- California Penal Code 1001.36 PC.
- California Penal Code 1000 PC. See also People v. Orozco (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2012) 209 Cal. App. 4th 726.