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Understanding suspended sentences

On Behalf of | Mar 4, 2022 | Criminal Defense

You may have heard of people having their sentences suspended but not given much thought to what that actually means until you faced a criminal charge of your own. What does it mean for a judge to suspend someone’s sentence?

First, it doesn’t mean that the court has determined that you’re not guilty or that the charge is wiped off your criminal record. A sentence can only be suspended if someone has been found guilty or admitted guilt through a plea agreement.

In some states, a judge may sentence a person for a crime – for example, to spend a year in jail — and then suspend the sentence. However, California law states, “A term of imprisonment shall not be specified if imposition of sentence is suspended.”

A sentence suspension can be revoked

A suspended sentence doesn’t mean you’re off the hook from ever having to serve time for the crime. A judge can reinstate a sentence if they believe it’s warranted. For example, if someone fails to adhere to the terms of their probation or gets in further legal trouble. Often a person whose sentence is suspended has to fulfill other obligations, like enrolling in a substance abuse program.

Typically, sentences are only suspended for misdemeanors and non-violent offenses. They’re more likely to be suspended if a defendant hasn’t had other criminal convictions, doesn’t seem likely to re-offend or when the community would be better served if they got some kind of treatment and can continue to work so that they can pay restitution. Again, if these obligations aren’t fulfilled, a suspension can be revoked.

If you’re not guilty of the crime of which you’re accused, you shouldn’t plead guilty in the hope of getting a suspended sentence. However, if you’re facing jail time, you may be able to work towards obtaining a suspended sentence if you have experienced legal guidance.