Criminal defense in Austin Texas.

Deferred Adjudication

Posted By on October 11, 2008

Deferred adjudication has got a bad reputation in Texas – perhaps for good reason.  People plea bargain for deferred adjudication because they believe it won’t go on their record.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.  The criminal justice system makes a record every time a person gets arrested, and will go making records of everything that happens in each and every case until it is finally disposed of.  This is true regardless of the outcome – whether it’s a conviction, an acquittal, a deferred adjudication, or a dismissal.

What is true about deferred adjudication is that it is not a conviction under Texas law.  When a judge puts a defendant on deferred adjudication he “defers,” or puts off, judgment in the case, “without entering an adjudication of guilt.”  If a probationer completes deferred adjudication successfully, the judge is required to “dismiss the proceedings” and to “discharge him.”  Texas law goes on to say that a dismissal of a deferred adjudication “may not be deemed a conviction for the purposes of disqualifications or disabilities imposed by law for conviction of an offense.”  Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 42.12 sec 5

Sounds great, right?  Well, not so much.

Unfortunately, none of that language applies to private employers, or to landlords, or even to the Federal government.  DPS reports deferred adjudications on its state-wide database, which means they often turn up when private companies do background checks as well.  What that all means is that if your employer doesn’t know what “deferred adjudication” means, and you told him you’d never been convicted, he may wind up thinking not only that you’re a criminal, but that you’re a liar, as well.  And trying to explain the legal distinction between deferred adjudication and regular probation isn’t likely to do you any good.

Fortunately, the Texas legislature, in a rare example of compassion and good sense, created a few years ago a way for at least some people to get relief: they can petition the court for an Order of Nondisclosure.

An Order for Nondisclosure isn’t a perfect remedy, but it does go a long way towards accomplishing what deferred adjudication was supposed to do in the first place – to give someone a second chance.


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