Justice For All - March 2011
This third edition of Justice For All will focus on a question frequently asked of me during recent public speaking events. “What is a suspended sentence?”
To my surprise many citizens describe it as “a slap on the wrist for the defendant.” Let me be clear: a suspended sentence is far from a slap on the wrist. A suspended sentence is usually available to someone who has a limited or nonexistent criminal history and wants a chance to go back to “the straight and narrow” without spending a large amount of time in jail or prison. A suspended sentence gives defendants that chance . . . but they have to earn it.
Suspended sentences require the defendant to plead guilty, pay fines, surcharges, and court costs (unless the court suspends them), go on probation, and usually meet a number of other offense-based conditions which include completing a substance abuse evaluation and following all recommendations, staying current on fine payments, completing a state-approved drinking driver’s course, enrolling in an anger management program, paying restitution to any victims, and performing community service.
Since the defendant has pled guilty and thus admitted he or she committed the crime they were charged with, the court imposes a jail or prison sentence which is suspended in part or entirely if the defendant agrees to and does meet all the conditions outlined in the previous paragraph and follows all other laws during the period of probation. Defendants have that jail or prison time hanging over their heads during the period of probation as an incentive to live up to their end of the bargain.
At this point you may be wondering whether most defendants follow through on their promise. During my time in office so far and from my many observations before that, I have found that most defendants do indeed live up to their end of the bargain. Those who don’t are considered to have violated their probation.
When a defendant violates the terms of probation, either I as county attorney or the defendant’s probation officer files for a probation revocation hearing with a judge. At that hearing the judge will hear from me, the probation officer, the defendant’s attorney, and most times from the defendant directly. The judge will decide what punishment is appropriate. Punishments range from a second chance at probation to imposing a contempt sentence to imposing the entire original sentence. For defendants who were given suspended prison time over my objection I still have the probation revocation hearing as an option to incarcerate those who refuse to become law abiding citizens.
Overall I see suspended sentences as appropriate for defendants who have little criminal history and do not pose a threat to the community. A suspended sentence gives those convicted the opportunity for reform and keeps open the option of incarceration and heavy fines if they don’t. It is a fair balance with the added benefit of saving you the taxpayer money on prison and jail costs. One might say this is an example of justice for all!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 16:30