The overcrowding of Oklahoma’s state prisons has for many years negatively affected not only those serving time but also society as a whole. This overcrowding was a main driver behind recent voter-approved reforms intended to address the problem by reducing some drug possession and property-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Easing prison overcrowding by reducing the intake of prisoners can also be done through the court’s discretion when passing sentence after a conviction. Two options available in this regard are deferred sentences and suspended sentences.

How Are Deferred and Suspended Sentences Similar?

Both of these sentencing tools allow a judge, whether independently or in connection with a plea or sentencing deal, to avoid sending a person to jail or prison even in situations where guilt can be established. Both of these options are frequently the result of plea negotiations and will commonly require that you meet certain conditions, like paying fines and court costs, undergoing treatment or education, submitting to drug testing, performing community service, and more. Perhaps the most important condition is that you “keep your nose clean”—that is, you don’t find yourself being accused of committing some other crime while you are still subject to the deferred or suspended sentence.

A suspended or deferred sentence is probation: staying out of county jail or state prison depends on you, and you will be subject to monitoring and supervision during all or part of your period of suspension or deferral.

How Are They Different?

Ordinarily the difference between something being “suspended” or being “deferred” would seem to be little more than a dictionary exercise, but when used in the legal sense these terms are distinct from each other and should not be used interchangeably.

Deferred sentence:

The key advantage of a deferred sentence, aside from retaining your freedom, is that if you satisfy all of the conditions attached to it then the underlying criminal charge can be expunged and will not appear on your public record. Although the Judge will take your plea of guilty or no contest as a basis to accept your plea, the judge will “defer” judgement until such time the deferment (probationary) period is over and then the charge will dismissed.

Suspended sentence:

Sometimes, such as when you have been accused of or have pled guilty to certain types of crimes or you have prior charges, a deferred sentence may not be available to you. Here, your next best course can be to seek a suspended sentence. The main way to distinguish a suspended sentence from a deferred sentence is that a suspended sentence stays with you: what is “suspended” is not your conviction, but rather your incarceration for it. That conviction will appear in any search of your public record, and cannot be expunged like a deferred sentence. Basically, the judge will take your plea of guilty or no contest and find you guilty. The judge will then sentence you to a term of incarceration which is then “suspended”. At the end of the suspended (probationary) time frame, you are released from probation.

Our duty to zealously represent you in a criminal proceeding begins with making every reasonable effort to see that you are acquitted or that the charge is dismissed. There may be times and circumstances, however, when that may not be possible. In these situations, our role shifts to securing the best outcome for you in terms of minimizing any legal consequences. Sometimes, this might mean a reduced sentence if you cannot avoid a period of incarceration. Or, it may be possible for us to persuasively argue to the court that instead of having you become another part of Oklahoma’s prison overcrowding problem, you can be a candidate for a deferred or suspended sentence.