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WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN A JUDGE SUSPENDS A SENTENCE?

Posted by Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Nick Alcock:

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “suspended sentence” a few times. You may even be curious about what that actually means. Suspending a sentence essentially means the jail or prison term is stopped. The defendant will not be incarcerated right away. While sentencing laws do vary depending on which state you are in, most judges have the discretion to suspend a prison or jail sentence.

Suspended sentences can either be conditional or unconditional. Unconditional suspended sentences means there are no conditions or prohibitions attached to the suspension. The conviction will still stand, but the sentence will be stopped. On the other hand, conditional suspended sentences means that the defendant needs to satisfy certain requirements. For example, a defendant may be ordered to complete a rehab treatment. Or, they may be required to retain a clean record and remain crime-free for a set period of time. If the defendant ends up breaking one of the conditions the judge can impose the sentence they suspended.

Judges can suspend sentences at various stages, depending on the state’s laws. They can suspend a sentence prior to its imposition and sometimes they can suspend executions. Much of this depends on whether or not courts have the authority to do so. Some states allow courts to suspend sentences, other states do not. In some jurisdictions there must be a specific law on point giving judges the appropriate authority. As an alternative to imprisonment, a judge can suspend a prison or jail sentence. This is typically used in cases involving less serious crimes or for first-time offenders.

When a judge suspends the imposition of a sentence, he has essentially declined to hand down a sentence, but reserved the right to do so in the future. Most criminal courts have the inherent power to suspend a sentence prior to its imposition as long as the suspension is for a specific amount of time and that period of time is reasonable. Not all jurisdictions recognize the inherent power of a court to suspend a sentence, however. In these jurisdictions, there must be a law specifically authorizing suspended sentences before a judge can suspend a sentence.

Judges may also lack the ability to suspend a sentence before its imposition if a mandatory sentencing law applies to the criminal act in question. If this is the case, the courts hands are tied and the judge must impose the sentence required by statute.

Finally, a court that has suspended the imposition of a sentence can revoke the suspension and impose any sentence that was available to it at the time of conviction. This is usually the case in conditional suspended sentences where the defendant has violated a condition of the suspension. A judge can review the issue and decide whether or not to revoke the suspension and, if revoked, what sentence to impose.

For more information about suspended sentences and sentencing laws in Arizona, please contact Alcock & Associates today at 602-989-5000.

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Alcock & Associates P.C.
2 North Central Avenue, 26th Floor
Phoenix AZ 85004