If someone you know has been charged with a criminal offense, there are typically three possible outcomes. He or she will be found not guilty, guilty, or the charges will be dismissed for a variety of reasons. The only one that comes with a sentence is guilty. Just because he or she is found guilty doesn’t mean the entire sentence will be done in jail or prison. The judge can choose to suspend some part or all of the sentence. The following tips will help you understand what this means.
Guilty: In order to receive a suspended sentence, the defendant must be found guilty. This can be done through a trial or hearing or with a guilty plea that removes the need for a trial or hearing. Once the guilty verdict occurs, the sentencing can be determined.
Amount of time: Judges have guidelines for how long or short a sentence can be, but in many cases they have the authority to suspend some or all of it. For example, the judge might impose a sentence of one year and suspend all of it but 30 days. This means the defendant will spend 30 days in jail and be released with no further requirements, or is released and required to be on probation. The judge makes that determination at the time of sentencing.
Suspended with time served: This is a common sentence in misdemeanor courts, when the defendant has spent considerable time in jail awaiting a court appearance. For example: if the defendant was in jail for four months on a charge that carries a six month maximum sentence, the judge may choose to release him or her with time served. He can still make the sentence six months, but suspend those final two months without requiring probation. Misdemeanor judges frequently suspend sentence remainders when it would mean setting the defendant up for only a few weeks of probation.
Suspended sentences often occur because of jail overcrowding, because the defendant has a family to support and a job, or in cases where it is the first time the defendant has been in trouble.
A suspended sentence is seen more often in misdemeanor court. Some states have laws preventing the judge from handing down suspended sentences for certain crimes, usually violent felonies or legislated drug offenses.