Prosecutors will sometimes offer a deferred sentence to first time DWI offenders and other relatively minor non-violent first time offenders.  This is usually done as part of the pre-trial plea bargaining process.  While it seems like the ultimate “get out of jail free card,” it is not a magic solution that will erase all consequences of a crime from a defendant’s record.

A deferred sentence is a criminal sentence that is suspended (delayed) until the defendant has completed a period of criminal probation.  During the probationary period, the defendant does not have to serve jail time and can continue to be a productive member of society.  If the defendant successfully completes probation along with all probation conditions, the judge may then dismiss the charges along with the sentence.  However, if the defendant in any way violates the terms of probation, he or she must may be ordered to serve the sentence in full immediately.

A deferred sentence requires the defendant to admit guilt and plead guilty to at least one of the charges against him or her.  Under New Mexico law, a judge may order a deferred sentence for any crime except capital or first-degree felonies.  Moreover, deferred sentences are not available when a firearm is used in a crime.  Except for sex offenders, a deferred sentence can be no longer than five years if issued by a district court.  If issued by a magistrate or metropolitan court, the probationary period cannot be longer than the maximum incarceration period for the offense plus any sentencing enhancements.

Aside from regular meetings with a probation or parole officer, a judge may order a variety of probationary conditions.  These will include all the standard terms of probation.  They may also include other conditions such as orders for the defendant to attend counseling, drug or alcohol programs; community service;  pay reparations to victims;  pay spousal and child support; undergo medical and psychiatric treatment; and many others depending upon the crime and the judge.

Once a defendant has complied with all the terms of probation, the criminal charges against the defendant are dismissed and there will be no conviction on the record.  However, it is important to understand that the underlying charges and deferred sentence will remain on the defendant’s record and are likely to come up during a background check.

Additionally, concerning many crimes, especially DWI, the first offense still counts as a prior offense if the defendant commits another crime.  Moreover, the conviction shows up on the defendant’s record as a conviction until the probationary period of the deferred sentence is completed.

In short, the deferred sentence is a very advantageous outcome in many situations.  In fact, it may be the best and only possible resolution short of trial in some cases.  However, it is not perfect and there are some drawbacks.  All of this should be discussed with a criminal defense attorney as your case progresses and certainly before any such plea is entered.

Additional Reading:The Deferred Sentence in First Time New Mexico DWI Results in a Dismissal, BUT…
Sliding Scales of Due Process in New Mexico Probation Violation Hearings
Conditional Discharge Does Not Clean the Slate in New Mexico