What Is a Suspended Sentence?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 01, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Maybe you heard about a famous athlete getting a suspended sentence, or you or someone you know has been offered one as a plea bargain. But what is a suspended sentence and how does it work?

While sentencing rules vary by jurisdiction, judges often have significant leeway in sentencing, and may suspend a sentence in certain cases. Let's take a look at what this means and how it works in practice.

The Basics

Sentencing generally follows a determination of guilt, either by a trial or by a defendant entering a guilty plea. If jail or prison is a possible sentence in a case, the judge may choose to "suspend" or delay imprisonment.

This is normally reserved for lesser crimes or first offenders, and means that the offender won't go to jail immediately, but the possibility of imposing the sentence.

The Types

Suspended sentences can be conditional or unconditional. An unconditional suspended sentence means that no further requirements are placed on the offender. There will still be a conviction on his record, but his sentence will be stopped.

A conditional suspended sentence means the offender will have to complete some other requirements or the sentence will be imposed. Conditions can include performance of community service or enrollment in a drug treatment program. Nearly all conditional suspended sentences require the offender to refrain from committing any more crimes.

So long as the offender meets the conditions, the sentence may stay suspended, or dismissed after a certain amount of time. However if the offender violates any condition of the conditional suspended sentence, the judge may execute the sentence.

The Practice

Suspended sentences are just one of many alternative sentencing options that judges have, and may not be available or appropriate in every case. And some jurisdictions place strict controls on suspended sentences and mandatory sentencing laws may limit a judge's power to impose a suspended sentence. If you've received a suspended sentence, make sure you are familiar with and adhere to any and all conditions.

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