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What Does “Suspended Sentence” Mean?






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Aug 10, 2011

What Does “Suspended Sentence” Mean?

The legal term for a sentence a convicted criminal is not required to serve is called a suspended sentence. A suspended sentence is handed down during the sentencing portion following a plea or a trial. The judge presiding over a trial has the authority to decide whether or not to suspend all or a portion of the defendant’s sentence. Some of the factors may be based on prison overcrowding, a person’s criminal background, evidence of remorse, mitigating factors and many other factors, which are too numerous to list. A judge hands down a sentence first, and then decides whether to suspend a portion of it, order a period of incarceration, fine the defendant or some combination thereof. Having a professional criminal defense attorney on your side does not guarantee a fully suspended sentence or a similar result, but it can help you learn whether you can even request a fully suspended sentence during the penalty phase.


When a defendant is sentenced to a period of probation, the sentence normally includes a period of incarceration as well as a suspended portion of imprisonment. If the defendant violates the terms of his probation, the penalties can range from a night in jail to a revocation of the entire suspended portion of the sentence. For example, if the defendant is sentenced to 1 year of prison with 9 months suspended and 1 year of probation and the defendant later violates his probation, he could go back to prison for the remaining 9 months.

Deferred disposition

A deferred disposition means that the sentence is deferred for a period of time, during which time the defendant may have to comply with certain conditions such as alcohol/substance abuse counseling, community service, remaining crime-free, etc. At the end of the deferred disposition, the defendant may be able to withdraw his plea and the case will be dismissed IF the defendant complied with the terms of his deferred disposition agreement. If the defendant violated the terms of his deferred disposition, then the judge can sentence the defendant to ANY lawful sentence, including jail time. Deferred dispositions are another form of a suspended sentence that we use in Maine.

Postponed sentence

A postponed sentence is considered a suspended sentence in just a few jurisdictions throughout the nation. Postponed sentences are more common in areas where jails are overcrowded, especially if the defendant’s crimes are petty and the defendant has no criminal record. Postponed sentences typically follow the same rules and guidelines as a normal suspended sentence, including the imposition of original punishments if the rules, terms, and conditions are violated in any way. Maine does not follow a postponed sentence arrangement, rather, we follow the deferred disposition model.



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