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What is a Stay of Adjudication?

Many first-time offenders may benefit more from a nudge in the right direction than time behind bars. It is not hard to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, which could lead to getting arrested. A one-time mistake should not result in a permanent criminal record. A stay of adjudication will allow you to avoid a criminal conviction by completing the terms of probation. If you have questions about a stay of adjudication, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help.

Stay of Adjudication and Deferred Judgment

Most states offer some form of a stay of adjudication but it can have a number of different names. Also known as deferred judgment, pretrial diversion, deferred adjudication, probation before judgment, or adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, these all refer to a similar practice. The defendant pleads guilty but the guilty plea is not accepted by the court. Instead, the defendant has to complete a term of probation.

In some states, the stay is based on the defendant not being charged with the same or a similar crime within 6 months or a year. If the defendant is arrested and charged with a crime within the probationary period, the court will accept the prior guilty plea and sentence the individual based on that offense, in addition to the new charges.

For example, a court may offer a stay of adjudication to a first-time offender who was arrested for driving under the influence of a controlled substance. If the defendant is able to stay clean for a year with no other drug charges or impaired driving charges, the court may dismiss the charges, leaving no criminal record. However, if the individual is arrested for impaired driving a few months after the stay of adjudication, they will face sentencing for the first DUI and charges for a second DUI.

Modified Judgment and Sentencing in Minnesota

While states approach stays of adjudication differently, it may help to provide a specific example. Minnesota is one of the states that offers a stay of adjudication. A stay of adjudication or deferred prosecution is often provided for first-time, non-violent drug offenders. Under state law, the court may defer prosecution for anyone found guilty of drug possession charges and other non-violent offenses. This includes pleading guilty or a finding of guilty after a trial. To qualify, the defendant generally has to meet the following:

  1. Not previously participated in or completed a diversion program;
  2. Not previously been placed on probation without a judgment of guilty and thereafter been discharged from probation; and
  3. Not been convicted of a felony violation.

During the probationary period, the defendant may be required to participate in a drug and alcohol substance abuse program. If the defendant violates the terms of probation or is arrested for another drug charge, the court may enter an adjudication of guilt and sentence the offender. Upon successful completion of the probation terms, the court will discharge the person and dismiss the criminal charges.

There are similar stays for imposition or execution. A stay of imposition generally involves having your charges reduced after completing probation. For example, a felony charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor after completing the terms of probation. This can greatly reduce the penalties and collateral consequences associated with a felony conviction. Talk to your criminal defense attorney for advice.

Terms of Probation

A stay of execution may allow you to avoid jail time by following the terms of probation. Like other diversion programs, a stay of execution does not erase the criminal conviction but it allows the individual to avoid a prison sentence if the defendant can follow the terms of probation. Terms of probation may include:

  • House arrest
  • Community service
  • Fines
  • Restitution
  • Education programs
  • Mental health counseling
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Random drug testing

Can I Say I Don't Have a Criminal Record After a Stay of Adjudication?

One of the primary benefits of completing a stay of adjudication is that you will not have a public criminal record. However, it is important to understand how a stay of adjudication will be treated by law enforcement and public background searches. During the probation period, you have not been “adjudicated" or convicted of a crime. If an application asks if you have a criminal conviction, you can respond “no."

However, during the probationary period for a stay of adjudication, you are not yet in the clear. A subsequent violation during the terms of adjudication could result in a conviction and sentencing. A stay of adjudication requires the defendant to plead guilty which can turn into a conviction

After completing the terms of probation, the court will dismiss your charges. This generally means you were not convicted of a crime and do not have to report the offense for most job or housing applications. Your state laws may also prohibit employers from asking certain questions of applicants, including criminal arrests. However, some professions may require disclosure of prior arrests, even if they did not end in conviction.

Who Has Access to My Criminal History?

Completing a stay of adjudication does not completely erase the events of the past. The public record may be clear of any criminal history but the courts and law enforcement may still have access to your files. Even after a stay of adjudication, if you are later arrested for a similar offense, the judge and prosecutor could see your prior adjudication. Your prior offense could be used against you during the criminal investigation, prosecution, and sentencing. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer for advice on how to keep criminal charges off your record.