The vast majority of criminal cases never go to trial. These cases are either disposed of by a plea bargain or dismissed outright. This article explains two common ways by which criminal cases are disposed of in a plea bargain that may also result in a dismissal upon completion.

Deferred adjudication

A deferred adjudication is where a defendant pleads “guilty” or “no contest” to a charge, but the court defers the finding of guilt and places the defendant on community supervision (sometimes also called probation).

The conditions of the community supervision are negotiated and may generally include things such as an agreed upon fine, court costs, monthly probation fees, random drug tests, drug and alcohol education, community service hours, and a monetary contribution to Crime Stoppers. Sometimes they also include conditions that are related to the offense committed, such as anti-theft classes in theft cases, Alcoholics Anonymous classes in alcohol cases, and batterers intervention programs in family violence cases.

The term (length) of community supervision may be anywhere from a few months to a few years. However, upon successful completion of the program, the charge is dismissed and the defendant may petition for a non-disclosure of the offense after the expiration of any applicable waiting periods. The defendant may sometimes be able to ask for early termination after half of the time has passed (current law), if he or she has complied with all of the conditions up until that point in time and paid all fines and fees.

If the defendant violates the conditions of community supervision, the State can move for finding that the defendant be found guilty and placed on formal probation, which will result in a conviction, which is no longer eligible for a non-disclosure or an outright revocation of probation and ask the judge to assess punishment for the offense. Depending on the circumstances, the judge may instead modify the terms of the community supervision by increasing the length of time on community supervision or by placing more restrictive conditions on the defendant. If the judge revokes the community supervision, it will result in conviction and he or she will impose a sentence within the punishment range as provided by law for the offense (jail, state jail, or prison).

Pretrial intervention

Pretrial intervention is essentially a contract between the defendant and the prosecutor whereby the prosecutor agrees not to proceed with the case and to dismiss the case upon the defendant’s successful completion of his or her contractual “community supervision”. It is similar to deferred adjudication, in that the defendant will have to fulfill the terms and conditions of the “community supervision”, but with the added benefit that the defendant would be able to seek an expunction of the offense after successfully completing the program and the expiration of any applicable waiting periods.

One major difference, however, is that the defendant must meet the rigorous requirements of pretrial intervention and it must be applied for and approved by the District Attorney’s office. This option may or may not be available in other counties. Generally, in Harris County, a defendant will have to write a letter admitting to the offense and completely and fully accepting responsibility for it. He or she will also have to include proof of enrollment in school or proof of employment, and gather several letters from friends, family, and/or colleagues who can vouch for the defendant’s character.

Whether a person can participate in a pretrial intervention program is up to the discretion of the prosecutor, even if he/she has met the rigorous requirements for eligibility. Some prosecutors may not allow pretrial intervention for certain offenses. In Harris County for example, prosecutors may only accept into the program first-time offenders for whom a conviction or a deferred adjudication would negatively affect their educational career or their ability to keep or apply for a professional license.

Upon approval, the defendant would be subject to many of the same conditions of community supervision described above. Once all of the conditions have been fulfilled, the State will move for dismissal of the case. The defendant would then be able to seek an expunction of the offense although the prosecutor may include a waiting period as part of the agreement. In Harris County, the District Attorney’s office generally requires a two-year waiting period before a petition for expunction can be filed following a dismissal pursuant to a pretrial intervention agreement.