Suspended Execution of Sentence

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If you’re like most people, you likely think that the court only sends guilty defendants to two places: jail or prison.

You probably also think the execution of these punishments happens immediately after the sentencing phase ends. That’s how justice must be, right? Swift and decisive?

So, when the court suspends a sentence — by putting a portion of the punishment on hold — the whole event might understandably look like a pause in justice.

But what if the convicted individual has committed a minor crime and has the potential for rehabilitation without going to prison? What if they’re a first-time offender who may have made a mistake (unfortunately, with legal implications) but are not habitual criminals?

The United States prison system already has considerable problems related to overcrowding and resource allocation.

If there’s a way to hold low-level offenders accountable without imprisonment, it could help the institution prioritize more severe cases and allocate resources effectively.

That’s what the notion of “suspended execution of sentence” is all about. With this provision, some courts can place specific people on probation with a preset incarceration time they must serve if they fail to comply. is your go-to website for essential information regarding inmates and correctional facilities in the U.S.

Whether you have a loved one facing a court verdict or a casual reader who just wants to understand how and why courts suspend the execution of sentences, this article can help you.

Learn more about the process, purpose, and conditions for suspending sentence execution.

What Does Execution of Sentence Mean?

Simply put, “execution of sentence” refers to applying the court’s verdict regarding a convicted defendant.

A court sentence could mean a fine, imprisonment, or other disposition.

Suspended Execution of Sentence (SES) Law and Legal Definition

In criminal law, SES refers to a judge’s capacity to partially or entirely suspend the guilty individual’s jail or prison sentence, provided the convicted person meets specific obligations.

In SES, the court puts the defendant on probation with preset prison or jail time in case of revocation.

The presiding judge can impose that sentence if the individual violates the probation requirements. That said, even if the defendant ends the probationary period successfully, the conviction will still appear on their record.

The primary goal of SES is to rehabilitate and motivate offenders to behave properly. This provision reminds the defendant that their good conduct can expedite their complete restoration to society.

What Does It Mean to Suspend Execution of Sentence?

Again, SES refers to a legal term that describes the court’s decision to delay the execution of any penitentiary time contingent upon the convicted individual’s compliance with probation conditions.

Delayed or Postponed Sentences

Sometimes, people call the “suspended sentence” a delayed or postponed sentence.

Postponed or delayed sentencing usually follows a plea bargain.

Individuals who plead guilty to a crime can make a plea bargain or deal with another party to reduce their exposure to a more lengthy or severe punishment.

The prosecutor will offer first-time offenders a suspended sentence to negotiate an agreement so that they can plead guilty but avoid prison or jail time.

However, don’t confuse a suspended sentence with deferred sentencing (deferred adjudication or stay of adjudication).

With deferred sentencing, the judge can delay their verdict, letting the defendant serve on probation.

Suppose this defendant finishes the probation period successfully. In that case, the judge can dismiss the criminal charges, and the convicted individual will have no criminal conviction on their record.

Meanwhile, a suspended sentence usually happens when the two parties of the case disagree on the appropriate punishment.

After conviction, the court may give each side time to prepare their arguments on sentencing during a subsequent hearing.

The court can impose sentences but postpone their imposition for legitimate reasons. For example, a hospitalized defendant might not have to report to prison or jail until after discharge.

What Happens When a Sentence Is Suspended?

The court does not suspend sentences without issuing an alternative post-conviction penalty. As the sections above indicate, the typical alternative to imprisonment is probation.

For example, in some states, a person guilty of first-offense driving under the influence (DUI) can get a maximum of six months of jail time.

However, the judge can impose this sentence but suspend its execution and place the defendant on probation, probably requiring the convicted individual to attend counseling sessions regarding DUI.

This scenario has two possible outcomes:

  • Suppose the defendant completes the counseling sessions and complies with all the probation requirements. The court will likely not send them to jail or prison in that case.
  • On the other hand, if the defendant fails to finish the sessions, the judge can impose the sentence and send the defendant to jail or prison for six months.

A suspended sentence can be granted in many state courts, but it depends on the judge’s discretion.

So, any defendant may request a suspended sentence, but they are not entitled to this sentencing option.

When deciding whether to suspend or impose a suspended sentence, trial courts might consider the following:

  • The defendant’s criminal history and record
  • The severity of the crime
  • Whether the convicted individual is a flight risk or a safety risk to the general public

These criteria are why courts do not suspend sentences for high-level offenses, including rape and murder.

If you or a loved one got a suspended sentence, you could consult a law firm to help you complete the probation and avoid confinement.

Who Is Eligible for a Suspended Sentence?

Sentence suspension is not a right but a privilege. Therefore, whether you qualify for it depends on the court’s decision.

Still, courts usually offer a suspended sentence to people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Suppose the defendant is a first-time offender who committed a minor crime. In that case, they’re likely eligible for a suspended sentence as an alternative sentencing.

These factors could affect the defendant’s chances of receiving suspended sentences:

  • Guilty plea under a plea agreement
  • Remorse and willingness to take responsibility for actions
  • Criminal record
  • Nature of offense
  • Potential to rehabilitation
  • Risk to society

Is a Suspended Sentence an Option in Your Case?

You can request a sentence suspension, but it is up to the court’s discretion whether you get it.

That said, judges and prosecutors may be more willing to suspend if they think the prison system will benefit more from alternative sentencing.

Are There Any Requirements for a Suspended Sentence?

The court ordering sentence suspension does not mean the convicted individual is free and clear until their period of probation ends.

They can still face prison or jail time if the evidence demonstrates their violation of probation rules.

If a defendant is granted probation, that does not mean they are free and clear until their probationary period is up. They can still face jail time if they violate the terms of their probation.

Meanwhile, courts may issue unsupervised or supervised probation. Each scenario comes with unique rules and requirements.

For misdemeanor cases, unsupervised probation may require the convicted individual to abstain from alcohol and drugs, commit no more crimes, and stay within the area the court decides.

Are There Any Limitations of a Suspended Sentence?

Yes. In revocation cases, the judge can re-impose the entire sentence on the convicted individual. Also, sentence suspension means you have a conviction record but do not have to serve time in jail or prison.

Furthermore, law enforcement keeps a record while the public does not know about your conviction.

Suppose you’ve gotten a suspended sentence for a DUI charge, and a few years down the road, you got charged with another DUI. In that case, the court will consider your latest DUI offense a second offense.

Plea Deals

You enter a plea negotiation or deal when you get an SES settlement offer. A plea deal is a court-sanctioned agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor.

This agreement often involves the defendant giving up some rights, including the right to a trial. Defendants typically accept the offer to avoid getting the maximum punishment.

Sometimes, these deals require defendants to participate in community service and pay higher fines.

Effects of an SES

To better understand the impact of SES, you can compare it to a similar sentence, namely, SIS (suspended imposition of sentence).

SIS and SES differ regarding whether you receive an actual conviction. With SIS, you serve on probation without a conviction. In contrast, SES usually means probation with a criminal record.

If you plead guilty, the court usually imposes prison or jail time. However, as indicated above, the court can also suspend the execution of a sentence and put you on probation for a period of time.

Severe criminal offenses like felony DWIs (driving while intoxicated or impaired) do not typically get this sentence.

Imposition or Execution?

A judge who grants suspended sentences must specify the nature of the sentencing option. In ISS (imposition of the sentence), the judge does not implement a sentence but places the defendant on probation.

In ESS (execution of the sentence suspended), the court deems the individual guilty but doesn’t have to undergo confinement.

Here’s a more detailed discussion of these differences:

Imposition of Sentence Suspended (ISS)

ISS or SIS is a court order indicating suspension sentence imposition for a prescribed period of probation to give the defendant a chance to prove their rehabilitation by following probationary rules.

The conviction can be set aside if the defendant fulfills all the court’s requirements.

In contrast, if the defendant violates probation conditions, the court has two primary options:

  • Reinstate probation: The judge can renew probation with or without imposing extra penalties and with or without changing the conditions of probation.
  • Order a sentence: The judge may recall the initial sentence.

However, the sentence often depends on the context at the time of the probation grant: The judge cannot base their decision on the defendant’s shortcomings during probation.

Execution of Sentence Suspended (ESS)

When a trial court orders probation with ESS, it declares the sentence but suspends its “execution.”

If the defendant breaches probation terms, the judge can reinstate probation or order a sentence.

The primary difference between ESS and ISS lies in the judge’s decision to issue a verdict.

With ESS, judges can impose the sentence they previously mandated but suspended. They cannot alter the sentence.

Here’s an example: A judge sentenced a defendant to six years in prison and suspended the sentence for six years (these five years are equivalent to the probation period).

Several years after the court-issued suspension sentence, the defendant failed to comply with the probation terms.

In this case, the judge can decide to implement the initial punishment (six-year prison confinement) but cannot modify its conditions.

Recall of a Sentence

As indicated above, a judge generally can’t amend a sentence where the execution of the sentence was suspended previously. However, like other legal rules, some states can make exceptions.

For example, California’s Penal Code section 1170 (d) (1) indicates that a court can recall and re-sentence a convicted individual within 120 days of the commitment date.

Simply put, the court that acts within 120 days can legally go back and change the sentence.

However, the code added that recalling sentences can happen at any time upon the recommendation of the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) or the Board of Parole Hearings (for state prison inmates) or the county correctional administrator (for county jail inmates).

Upon recalling a sentence, the court can impose a less severe punishment.

Factors in Obtaining an SIS Versus SES

In many criminal cases, whether an individual gets an SES or SIS usually depends on your choice attorney’s advocacy and how effectively they argue for you.

Therefore, working with a defense lawyer who can build a strong case for you in court is essential.

Without a competent attorney, you’re forced to present your case yourself, which can be incredibly challenging for someone inexperienced with the legal system.

SIS DWI Case Story

Here’s an example of an SIS DWI case:

John was apprehended after leaving a bar or restaurant in St. Louis, Missouri. He mixed medication with alcohol, causing him to pass out at a stop light.

Consequently, a local law enforcement officer pulled up to investigate. John cooperated and agreed to a breathalyzer and a field sobriety test. He failed and was charged with a DWI.

Here’s the catch: That was John’s third DWI, and in Missouri, a third DWI often meant four years in prison.

That said, Missouri courts can also suspend sentences.

Although it’s a long shot, a competent law firm got the prosecutor to agree to an SIS for John. The conditions for this deal include John serving on two-year probation and undergoing substance abuse treatment.

SES DWI Case Story

Sometimes, SES is the best sentence that a defendant could get, especially if they have more extensive criminal records.

Here’s an example of an SES DWI case:

Hannah had a criminal history of involvement in drug conspiracies in her late teens. She has already served considerable time in federal prison for this offense.

Several years after this incident, she was charged with and convicted of unlawful firearm possession. The prosecutor initially recommended five-year imprisonment.

However, after stating that Hannah did not commit any violent crime and was willing to undergo rehabilitation, an experienced defense attorney secured her a five-year SES with a one-month house arrest.

Violating SIS and SES Probation

In both cases, violating court-mandated terms means revocation of sentence suspension.

Probation and a Suspended Sentence

Most individuals with a suspended sentence must stick to the terms of probation or risk getting incarcerated.

The length of probation may depend on the following factors:

  • The judge’s decision
  • State law limits
  • The severity of the criminal charge

The probation rules may also depend on underlying criminal charges. Conditions of probation may include the following:

  • Reporting to the designated probation officer
  • Random drug tests
  • Community service
  • Consistent payment of court costs, probation fees, fines, or restitution
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Other offense-specific programs, like domestic violence intervention and sexual offender counseling
  • Having a stable source of income
  • Living at a particular address or geographical area
  • Adhering to curfew
  • Avoiding further criminal charges

Suppose the defendant breaks probation rules or commits a new crime. In that case, the judge can impose additional restrictions or revoke the suspended sentence.

The judge can also send the defendant to a corrections facility to serve the remainder of their sentence.

ISS or ESS Without Probation?

Judges can sometimes suspend the imposition or execution of a sentence without explicitly requiring the defendant to serve on probation.

However, some states, like California, only have the authority to issue ESS or ISS with mandating probation.

Unconditional Discharge

Simply put, a sentence of unconditional discharge means the convicted individual is not subject to imprisonment or any terms of probation.

Therefore, defendants who get an unconditional charge are free from their sentences with no additional penalties. They still have a “hit” on their criminal record but do not have to serve probation or in prison.

Partially Suspended or Split Sentences

A split or partially suspended sentence combines jail or prison time with probation.

The defendant will serve a specific number of years but can do so on probation after completing the unsuspended sentence.

For instance, the judge may suspend a four- or five-year sentence and require the guilty party to serve on probation after a one-year unsuspended portion instead.

Discuss Suspended Sentences With an Attorney

Suspended sentences vary based on a jurisdiction’s sentencing laws.  Discuss the case with a qualified criminal defense attorney if you need help making a plea deal or avoiding prison time.

Remember that the attorney-client relationship protects most lawyer-client communications.

Suspended Execution of Sentence FAQs

1. What does a “10-year sentence with 5 suspended” mean?

In this scenario, the court sentences the defendant to a 10-year prison or jail term.

However, the court then imposes five-year confinement. It also allows the convicted individual to serve the rest of the five years on probation.

  • The five-year confinement is usually called the “executed part” of the sentence or “execution of a sentence.”
  • The five-year probation is called the “unexecuted part” of the sentence.

If the defendant does not comply with the probation rules within the first half of the 10-year sentence, the court will send them back to jail or prison for the remainder.

This sentencing arrangement is also known as a “split sentence.”

2. Is a suspended sentence the same as probation in the legal system?

No, suspended sentences are criminal sentences, while probation is a less-severe alternative to incarceration.

While judges often suspend a sentence and order probation, it’s not mandatory.

For instance, a judge might suspend a sentence without probation for minor offenses. The conviction will still show on the guilty individual’s record, but they don’t have to serve jail or prison time.

Judges might do so if the defendant has already served time awaiting trial or if facilities are overcrowded. Other courts might suspend the sentence but require the guilty party to pay a fine, undergo substance abuse treatment, or do community service.

3. Does a suspended sentence mean a criminal record?

Yes. A suspended sentence follows after a guilty verdict.  This condition makes suspended sentences different from deferred sentences, in which the judge might dismiss the criminal charges entirely.

4. What is the law in the U.S.?

Every state in the U.S. has a written constitution far more elaborate than its federal counterpart.

As such, there will be significant differences regarding the state’s criminal laws, including whether a suspended sentence is a lawful verdict.

It is advisable to consult a reputable criminal defense lawyer in your state to give you legal advice on the specifics of your state’s policy regarding suspended sentences.


1. Suspended Sentence
2. Plea Bargaining
3. Adult Sentencing: Deferred Sentences and Probation
4. What are the different types of probation?
5. Suspended Imposition of Sentence: Frequently Asked Questions
6. 2018-IPG-39 (New Resentencing Provisions of PC § 1170(d)(1))
7. Missouri Third-Offense DWI
8. Suspended prison sentence
9. State & Local Government

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