If you have been charged with a crime, one of the ways to resolve your case is through a plea in abeyance agreement. This type of plea has many benefits, including the possible dismissal of your case. Not everyone is eligible, but if you are, here are some important considerations to help you decide.
What Is a Plea in Abeyance?
A plea in abeyance is a plea agreement between the defendant and prosecuting attorney. It allows you to plead guilty or no contest, but that plea will be held “in abeyance” (a fancy legal phrase for suspended) until you complete the terms of your agreement. If you successfully complete all requirements set out by the prosecutor during your probationary period, then your case will likely be dismissed or your charge will be reduced by one or two degrees. See Utah Code 77-2a-2.
Under the law, this is not considered a conviction and you do not get sentenced. If, after entering into a plea in abeyance, you are asked if you’ve been convicted of a crime, you can honestly and legally say no.
How Is This Different from a Regular Guilty Plea?
A regular guilty plea means that you are convicted of a crime and the judge issues a sentence. If you don’t follow through with the terms of your sentence, then the judge can bring you back to court and possibly put you in jail.
A plea in abeyance is different because it avoids a conviction and limits what the judge can do. If you successfully complete the terms, your case is dismissed or reduced. If you don’t successfully complete the terms, then you go back to court to determine if you’ve “substantially complied” with the terms. Utah Code 77-2a-4. If the judge finds that you did not substantially comply with the terms, then the judge can enter the conviction and sentence you.
A plea in abeyance also provides 100% certainty of the legal outcome because the punishment is negotiated with the prosecutor. The agreement prevents a judge from issuing any punishment other than the one previously negotiated. A regular guilty plea gives the judge wide latitude in deciding what punishment you receive. For example:
- If the prosecutor doesn’t ask for jail time under a plea in abeyance agreement, the judge cannot then order jail.
- If you are required to complete 50 hours of community service under a plea in abeyance agreement, the judge cannot order you to complete more hours.
If I Get Arrested Again While on Probation for a Plea in Abeyance, What Will Happen?
You must stay out of trouble during the probationary period (usually between 12-36 months). If you are arrested or alleged to have violated any of the terms, you will be called into court to explain why you violated the terms. If a judge decides you violated the terms, then the judge will enter the conviction and you will be sentenced.
Am I Eligible?
A plea in abeyance is usually only offered to individuals with little to no criminal history. Felonies and misdemeanors are eligible, but a prosecutor may not offer one if the crime involves violence, if there were serious injuries, or if the person has a pattern of criminal behavior.
There are some crimes that are not eligible for pleas in abeyance, like DUI’s.
Why Is a Plea in Abeyance Better Than a Regular Plea?
There are many reasons why a plea in abeyance is better than a regular plea.
- Gives you 100% certainty of what happens because it’s a negotiated contact with the prosecutor, while a regular plea has no certainty because the judge can issue any sentence they believe is fair.
- Can end in a dismissal, while a regular plea ends with a conviction.
- Eligible for expungement immediately after the case is dismissed, while a regular plea is not eligible for expungement until a minimum of three years has passed since probation was terminated and the case was closed.
If a plea in abeyance is not offered to you, you should call and speak with an attorney at Conyers & Nix as soon as possible about it. We may be able to persuade a prosecutor to offer you a plea in abeyance.