A deferred felony is a felony whose final sentencing decision
is postponed until the defendant is given the opportunity to serve
his or her probation. If the defendant completes his or her probation
successfully, all charges are dismissed, and the defendant avoids
a felony conviction. Perhaps most importantly, with a deferred felony,
the felony conviction is striked from the defendant’s criminal record
if probation is completed successfully.
It is common in plea bargains to include the option of a deferred
felony. Often, defendants will exchange a misdemeanor that requires
a shorter prison term to a deferred felony conviction that carries
with it a longer prison term in the event that probation is violated.
However, often in practice deferred adjudications fail to honor
the terms of the original adjudication and responsibly punish the
offender. Courts have granted termination of a sentence long before
the amount of time actually required to be served in the initial
ruling. For example, thousands of cases are terminated early each
year in Houston courts, some even within days or weeks of sentencing.
It is suggested that early terminations often occur when the judge
does not fully read the details of the termination request presented
by the defendant.
Since the late 1990’s, Oklahoma district courts are required to
provide detailed information to the sentencing commission involving
any deferred felony conviction, reinforcing the seriousness of the
deferred felony. Just because a deferred felony allows a defendant
to walk away early with a terminated sentence if he or she successfully
completes parole or probation, this should not suggest cause for
the offense to be taken lightly. The new information Oklahoma courts
require includes aggravating factors, or “offense enhancers,” considered
to be necessary to treat the offender's crime and sentence more
seriously. Such information might include whether a crime involved
a firearm, whether the victim was a senior, a child, someone mentally
or physically disabled, or if there was torture involved during
the commission of the offense. Such factors are now included following
the state’s “truth-in-sentencing” punishment guidelines.
In some cases, a deferred felony is considered more serious than
a misdemeanor conviction, but more often than not a deferred felony
lifts certain restrictions on the offender's behavior that a felony
would otherwise require. For example, first-time welfare-fraud defendants
in Colorado have been known to receive a deferred felony for their
crimes, enabling them to wipe their records clean after four years.
Convictions for most other non-serious crimes, however, are not
entitled to be deferred. An example is a domestic-violence case
that involves violent behavior. Although common, it cannot be plea
bargained to a misdemeanor nor can it result in a deferred sentence
Another instance is that Oklahoma allows individuals convicted
of deferred felonies, but not felonies, themselves, from working
in a classroom at any point in the future.
Furthermore, during a plea bargain, many defendants will not accept
a deferred felony when a misdemeanor is an option. According to
one lawyer, when defendants had a choice between accepting a deferred
felony with 90 days of jail time, or a misdemeanor requiring six
months of jail time, they opted to spend the six months in jail.
In 2007, Steven Powers had a deferred felony put back on his criminal
record after being convicted for faking the disappearance of a Marine
lance corporal. The original deferred felony was a 2004 burglary
Iowa courts found that a deferred felony did qualify as a conviction
when adjudicating the case of Dana Reth. Reth was convicted of a
federal charge of possession of ammunition and firearms when he
already had an outstanding deferred felony judgment he obtained
two months earlier for stealing $150,000 from his employer.
"Truth-in-Sentencing Data to Be Gathered,"
, 30 November 1997
"More probation problems found/But investigation fails to
find evidence of illegal judicial activity,"
Houston Chronicle, 25 June 1997.
"Frost's deal gets mixed reaction," Gazette Telegraph
, 8 April 1989.