The Common Law
What is deferred adjudication?
Deferred adjudication is in essence what it seems: the deferral of a judgment against you for a charged criminal offense. Basically, it is a plea bargain between you and the court. When you are arrested and formally charged with violating a Texas criminal statute the prosecutor may give you the option of deferred adjudication, whereby, you enter a plea of either "guilty" or "nolo contendere" ("no contest") to the charged criminal offense and the court places you on probation. For reasons not discussed here, generally it is wiser to plea "no contest" (especially if there is any threat of subsequent civil litigation arising out of the same conduct).
During this probationary period the court withholds judgment. The length of the probationary period assigned by the court will depend upon the seriousness of the charged criminal offense. If you successfully complete the probation and any other conditions assigned by the court, the charges are dismissed and there is no conviction on your record (Caution this "dismissal" is not exactly what it seems and will be discussed in greater detail in next week's column.)
Typically, you will be required to pay a fine and court costs. However, should you violate the terms of the probationary period, either by not completing all the conditions assigned by the court or by being arrested and/or charged during the probationary period for anything other than a minor traffic violation, the court has the authority to impose the maximum penalty allowed by law for the offense originally brought against you. You must understand that by agreeing to deferred adjudication you forever waive your right to trial by a jury of your peers. Thus, you have given the judge complete autonomy and control of your fate should you fail to successfully complete any of the terms and conditions of the probationary period.
Be sure to read next week's column, which will discuss more of the implications of agreeing to deferred adjudication. This is important information. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, as of Feb. 10, 2005, there were almost 2 million Texans who had been placed on deferred adjudication.
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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.