What is a Suspended Sentence?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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In law, a suspended sentence concerns the way a sentence after conviction might be interpreted, and whether a person actually goes to jail. Often when a sentence is suspended, this means a person convicted doesn’t have to serve time in jail, provided he or she meets other requirements set forth by the state. These requirements are variable and dependent on judicial rulings or permissible actions within a jurisdiction. Suspended sentences are usually given to first time offenders only and they don’t mean a person won’t possess a criminal record. Some juvenile courts allow records to sealed or removed, and some adult courts will allow records to be expunged eventually.

One way people receive a suspended sentence is if they are perceived by a court to be first time offenders, unlikely to commit more crimes and the crime isn’t very serious. In lieu of sentencing these people to go to jail, people are given a jail sentence they don’t serve. Instead of being in jail, they might have to meet with a probation officer, get counseling or in other ways demonstrate they are making amends and behaving as good citizens.


Probably the most important thing a person with this type of sentence must prove is that he or she can live a crime-free life. With conditional suspended sentences, the sentence is only in suspension if the person isn’t charged and convicted of any other crimes. Additionally, the suspension is contingent on cooperation with whatever the court has ruled the person must do. It is quite easy with this form of suspended sentence for people to end up having to serve time in jail if they commit other crimes or fail to cooperate with court orders.

When a judge issues a suspended sentence it may remain in effect for the actual period of the sentence or longer. Setting aside a six-month sentence could mean a person cannot get arrested for anything else during that six-month period. Alternately, a longer amount of time could be involved. For example, a person could have to meet with a probation officer for several years before the court would no longer be able to rule that a person actually had to complete the sentence instead, if the person’s behavior was illegal or uncooperative.

Another type of suspended sentence is called unconditional. This means the person will never serve jail time and isn’t mandated by the court to complete any type of program or probation. It’s still possible to have these sentences revoked if other crimes are committed, but usually as long as a person keeps behavior legal, this won’t occur. These sentences can also stay on records, even if they don’t represent time served. Some light sentences may be removed from records after a certain amount of time.


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