Why is a deferred judgment or "dj" the best thing next to "dismissal" that you can hear in your criminal case in Colorado?

Posted By Atty. Michael Evans || 12-Mar-2013

Many of us criminal defense lawyers are very accomplished trial attorneys. We like being in the courtroom, presenting evidence, making objections, and arguing facts to a jury. Many of our clients expect nothing less...after all, that is one of the reasons that they hired and paid us. But it doesn't matter how great of a trial attorney you are, one thing remains true and constant - you can never guarantee the result of a trial to your client. So whether you hire a guy like Larry Pozner, or pay $100k for some huge law firm for a defense, you are never going to be able to guarantee your future being spent in or out of prison with a criminal conviction. Money does not really buy a defense. Certainly it helps present facts through witnesses, but it doesn't buy the jury. And yet, I hear it all the time in courtroom hallways. Attorneys telling their clients that everything is going to "be OK" or "we are going to win this" or the most famous, "I can get you off". Although we like taking cases to trial, (absent a dismissal), and do our very best to get a "Not Guilty" verdict from the jury, there is one thing that acts as our kryptonite as criminal defense trial lawyers...and that is the deferred judgment or "DJ" plea agreement.

A deferred judgment is the ONLY way a criminal defendant can guarantee his own future out of prison and not being convicted of the crime he is charged with (something even the best attorneys cannot do). Let me explain why. In a criminal case, a "judgment" is made up of two significant events: 1) a guilty plea; and 2) a sentence. The deferred judgment means that judgment is being deferred...put off...until some later date in the future. In a "DJ" only one of the two parts to a judgment happens in a criminal case - the guilty plea. A criminal defendant taking a "DJ" will plead guilty to some charge...initially. Don't worry - this will all get cleared up later - keep reading. After the guilty plea, the sentence by the court does not actually occur. It is deferred until some later date which can be anywhere from 1 to 5 years. During that 1 to 5 year period, the defendant completes a term of probation - which can mean a lot of different things - but does not involve jail or prison. If the criminal defendant successfully completes probation in that time period, he or she will come back to court and the judge will withdraw the client's initial guilty plea, and dismiss the case. No prison. No conviction on their record.

How? Because the judge never entered a sentence after the guilty plea, and so there was never any "judgment". Now you may be saying to yourself, what if the defendant screws up on probation, what happens then? Well, then the defendant is really out of luck, usually. If probation is revoked, the judge will enter a sentence, the defendant will have a "conviction" on his or her record, and may be sent to prison for whatever term the offense requires. The defendant will not get to go back and start the case over. There will be no trial, no appeal, just a sentence. So that is a pretty big "carrot" on the stick not to screw up on probation. You either go big (no prison / no conviction) or go home. Hence, the deferred judgment is the criminal defense attorney's kryptonite because it is the one thing that we must ethically recommend to our clients as the best course of action. Why? Because as stated before, there is nothing that we can do as good trial attorneys to guarantee that you will not be convicted and sent to prison. That is always a real possiblity, regardless of who you hire, the facts of your case, or how much money you have. In a deferred judgment, the only one who can screw things up....is you.

For further information or questions, please contact The Evans Criminal Defense Law Firm.

Categories: Criminal Defense

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