What Happens When a Judge Suspends a Sentence

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on July 19, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You may have heard the term "suspended sentence" a few times. And you might be curious about what that actually entails. 

Now, sentencing laws vary depending on what state you are in. But most judges have the discretion to suspend a prison or jail sentence.

What does that mean? Here's a short explainer:

Suspending a sentence essentially means the jail or prison term is stopped. The defendant will not be incarcerated right away.

Suspended sentences can either be conditional or unconditional. Unconditional suspended sentences means there are no conditions or prohibitions attached to the suspension. The conviction will still stand, but the sentence will be stopped.

On the other hand, conditional suspended sentences means that the defendant needs to satisfy certain requirements. For example, a defendant may be ordered to complete a rehab treatment. Or, they may be required to retain a clean record and remain crime-free for a set period of time. If the defendant ends up breaking one of the conditions the judge can impose the sentence they suspended.

Judges can suspend sentences at various stages, depending on the state's laws. They can suspend a sentence prior to its imposition. And sometimes they can suspend executions.

But this all depends on whether or not courts have the authority to do so. Some states allow courts to suspend sentences, other states do not. In some jurisdictions there must be a specific law on point giving judges the appropriate authority.

For more information about suspended sentences and sentencing law in your jurisdiction, you may want to look up your state's criminal code. And you may want to get in touch with a criminal lawyer.

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