Suspended Sentence

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The United States judicial system has incarcerated approximately 0.7% of the state’s population. Individuals in jails and prisons may seek a suspended sentence based on their situation. 

According to Cornell Law School, a suspended sentence in criminal law occurs when a judge provides an alternative to incarceration by entirely or partially suspending the convicted individual’s imprisonment.  

The individual must fulfill particular conditions. If they violate these conditions, the state may request to revoke the suspended sentence and enact an imposition of a sentence based on the original term of imprisonment. An example is three years.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. criminal justice system locks up the most people per capita among all nations. 

You may need to find one of the approximately two million incarcerated Americans in federal, state prisons, or local jails seeking a suspended sentence. is a one-stop site where you can access critical information regarding inmates and thousands of correctional facilities in judicial jurisdictions across the U.S. 

If you are curious about learning more information on suspended sentences, read on. 

Public policy goals of rehabilitating offenders function as a foundation of suspended sentences. As of May 2015, the U.S. prison population had increased 700% since 1970.

Virginia courts have explained that suspended sentences encourage convicted defendants to maintain good behavior. 

In addition, some states inform the defendant that their good conduct will help expedite their complete restoration to society. Other states argue that maintaining good behavior is implicit in the suspended sentence’s conditions. 

Suspended Sentence in Criminal Cases: What Does It Mean?

A suspended sentence is related to a judge sentencing a defendant to prison or jail time. However, the judge delays imposing the sentence to allow the defendant to serve time on probation. 

If the defendant completes probation, the judge usually dismisses the case without placing the defendant in custody. However, if the defendant violates the period of probation, the judge may impose the remainder of the sentence. The original sentence may include jail or prison time.   

A suspended sentence usually means a conviction remains on an individual’s criminal record. This process differs from a deferred sentence that does not produce a guilty conviction.

What Is a Suspended Sentence?

Suspended jail sentences exist in several countries, including the U.S. and United Kingdom (U.K). In the U.K, an individual serves a prison sentence in the community rather than in jail.  

Additionally, a suspended sentence may differ somewhat in various states in the U.S. In Massachusetts, a suspended sentence requires you to serve a specific sentence if you violate any of your probation’s terms

A violation of probation will not trigger jail time automatically. However, if jail time is warranted, the sentencing judge must sentence you to the amount of time suspended at your original sentencing.  

Delayed or Postponed Sentences

The term “suspended sentence” is also known as “postponed sentence” or “delayed sentence.” 

Delayed sentence: This process proceeds after a plea bargain. In a plea bargain, a defendant pleads guilty to a crime and receives a reduced sentence. A prosecutor often offers a plea agreement to first-time offenders. While the defendant pleads guilty, they can avoid jail time.  

Deferred sentencing: This process offers an alternative to traditional conviction, sentencing, and incarceration. Eligible defendants can undergo supervision and services as a replacement for incarceration. 

Defendants can make informed decisions about probation as an alternative to prison time. However, individuals who fail to follow the conditions may receive criminal charges and convictions.

Deferred adjudication: This term refers to delayed judgment. Deferred adjudication involves formally deferring judgment for either criminal actions or charges. The judge postpones or delays judgment until determining whether the convicted individual has improved or achieved better control of their behavior. 

Purpose of Suspended Sentences

One principal purpose of suspended sentences is to minimize the issue of overcrowded jails. Courts frequently impose suspended sentences when less serious crimes and first-time offenders commit them.  

What Happens When a Sentence Is Suspended?

A suspended sentence means a convicted criminal defendant is not required to serve jail time if they adhere to the probation’s terms. 

If defendants complete probation successfully, the judge often dismisses the suspended sentence. However, if the defendant violates the probation conditions, the result may be probation revocation and implementation of the original sentence.

What Is the Law Throughout the U.S.?

The state laws related to suspended sentences may differ in states like California, New York, or Texas

Conditional Suspended Sentences

A conditional suspended sentence occurs when a court imposes a jail sentence. Still, the defendant does not serve a sentence if they follow the court’s conditions. A common condition is not committing another crime. 

If the individual violates the conditions, the suspended sentence becomes revoked, and the defendant must serve the original jail sentence. 

Unconditional Discharge

An unconditional discharge sentence typically means the defendant is not subject to either imprisonment or terms of conditions of probation. 

The unconditional discharge is the criminal sentence’s end. The prison releases the defendant without penalties or restrictions. 

The defendant has a criminal history record and is responsible for the criminal act. However, they will not serve either jail time or probation. 

An unconditional charge is rare sentencing. The judicial system may only use it in extraordinary situations or as part of a larger plea agreement that includes penalties in other cases. 

Partially Suspended or Split Sentences

A split sentence, which is also called a partially suspended sentence, combines jail time and probation. A judge may sentence a particular defendant to a term of a number of years. At the same time, the judicial system may release the individual after serving the unsuspended sentence.  

If the individual completes the probation successfully, they never serve the suspended term. However, suppose the defendant violates probation, then the judge may send them back to prison to serve part or all of the remaining unsuspended sentence. 

Suspended Sentence Example: 10-Year Sentence With Five Years Suspended 

Here is an example of a suspended sentence. 

In this situation, a judge sentences a defendant to a 10-year prison or jail term. However, then the judge imposes five years in confinement, allowing the defendant to serve the last five years on probation.

Individuals often refer to the five years in confinement as the “execution of a sentence” or the “executed part” of a sentence.

Suppose a defendant violates a term of the probation within the 10-year sentence’s second half. They must return to jail or prison for the sentence’s remaining period of time. Individuals often refer to this kind of sentence arrangement as a “split sentence.”

Who Is Eligible for a Suspended Sentence?

A court may offer suspended sentences to individuals convicted of minor, non-violent offenses in which an individual does not risk danger to their community. Such offenses differ from more severe charges like driving under the influence (DUI).  

Several first-time, low-level offenses are eligible for alternative sentencing like suspended sentences.

A suspended sentence allows defendants to remain employed or attend school and may lower the risk of becoming a repeat offender.

Specific categories of crimes or repeat offenders can disqualify individuals for suspended sentences. 

When Is a Suspended Sentence an Option?

A suspended sentence is typically available in all state courts, but a judge’s discretion determines it. All defendants can request a suspended sentence, but none are entitled to this sentencing option. 

A judge is not allowed to grant a suspended sentence if a state requires a mandatory minimum jail or prison sentence. 

Key Requirements for Defendants Serving Suspended Sentences

A court usually imposes conditions on defendants after placing them on unsupervised probation. Some examples include:

  • Not getting arrested again
  • Obeying laws
  • Not using drugs or alcohol 
  • Not leaving the state or country 

A court often requires a defendant to follow these conditions in misdemeanor cases. Misdemeanor cases are less severe than felonies.

A defendant on supervised probation is required to comply with the terms of supervised probation, such as: 

  • Reporting to a probation officer
  • Complying with a curfew
  • Submitting to drug testing 
  • Avoiding new arrests 
  • Maintaining employment

Suspended Sentence and Probation: Are They the Same? 

A judge does not always sentence an individual to jail time after convicting them of a crime. Alternative punishments include suspended sentences and probation. The two types of suspended sentences are conditional and unconditional, while probation involves conditions.  

Are Suspended Sentences and Probation the Same?  

A suspended sentence and probation are related but not the same procedures.

A suspended sentence is a court-ordered punishment that is delayed so a defendant can serve probation. 

Meanwhile, probation is an alternative to jail. Defendants serve a sentence in part or full in the community rather than in prison.  

Does Suspended Sentence Mean a Criminal Record?

A suspended sentence typically remains on a person’s criminal record. However, a deferred sentence does not result in a criminal record. The defendant pleads guilty. Then the judge delays the plea’s entry and places the defendant on probation.

If the individual completes probation, the judge alters the initial plea from guilty to not guilty. However, if the defendant violates probation, the judge may enter the guilty plea, and the conviction goes on the individual’s criminal record. 

Supervision During Probation

A probation officer monitors an individual on probation to ensure they meet all conditions. Generally, they must check in with a probation officer once a month. The probation officer may also:

  • Administer random drug tests 
  • Supervise progress in community service and counseling

Can a Suspended Sentence Be Revoked?

The court can revoke a suspended sentence if the individual serving the sentence violates the terms of probation. It can also require the defendant to serve their remaining sentence in jail or prison

The prosecutor and defense usually negotiate to agree on the revocation and remaining sentence. 

Types of Prison Sentences

Here are some of the main types of prison sentences:


  • Mandatory sentence: A judge must impose this sentence regardless of the circumstances. 
  • Maximum sentence: The law establishes maximum sentences for all types of crimes.
  • Minimum sentence: In some cases, a judge is required to impose a sentence of at least a particular number of months or years. 

Non-Custodial Sentences 

Suspended Sentences

A judge imposes a prison sentence yet suspends it on particular conditions.  

Community Service Orders 

An individual must conduct work, generally unpaid, that benefits the community. 

Restriction on Movement Orders

Individuals must avoid being in certain places or during certain times. The order may also impose curfews.

Probation Orders

This order is essentially an official warning for first-time offenders.

Discussing Suspended Sentences With an Attorney

You should locate a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney to help understand plea bargains or to learn potential jail time alternatives. 

Law firm attorneys can provide legal advice to help you better understand your situation. They can also build an attorney-client relationship.  

The case of you or a loved one may make a suspended sentence available through your criminal defense attorney. These lawyers may possibly negotiate your criminal charges or obtain a suspended sentence through a plea deal. 

A plea deal is an agreement between the prosecution and the defense where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense or one or more of the offenses in exchange for more lenient sentencing. 

Suppose you fight the criminal charges and the judicial system still finds you guilty. In that case, your attorney can help you obtain a suspended sentence by demonstrating “mitigating factors” to reduce your punishment. 

These mitigating factors to avoid prison time are: 

  • You were experiencing a mental disturbance
  • You were a minor participating in a crime
  • You admit your wrongdoing
  • You have no other criminal record
  • You were a military veteran

Still, accepting a suspended sentence over other potential non-jail alternatives can be a mistake. An attorney can assist in determining the best possible outcome. 

It is advisable to discuss all potential results with your attorney before making any decisions.


1. What Percent of the U.S. Is Incarcerated?
2. Suspended sentence
3. Criminal justice facts
4. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022
5. Deferred Sentencing Program of the
6. Types of prison sentence
7. Overcrowding and overuse of imprisonment in the United States

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