Facing criminal charges and the possible long-term consequences of a conviction can be deeply troubling, especially for people who have had little or no contact with the criminal justice system in the past. Fortunately, Iowa judges have some discretion in sentencing, and not every conviction means a prison sentence. In some circumstances a defendant will be eligible for some form of alternative sentencing, and thus avoid incarceration.
One form of alternative sentencing that Iowa judges can impose is a deferred judgment. In a deferred judgment, the judge defers, or postpones, the adjudication of guilt and the sentence. The court instead places the defendant on probation, and imposes a civil penalty equal to any fine authorized for the offense.
If the defendant successfully completes probation, the defendant is discharged and a judgment of guilt is never entered. In addition, the offense for which judgment was deferred is expunged from the defendant's record. However, if the defendant does not cooperate with the probation program, the court can pull the defendant out of the program and impose the judgment and sentence that were originally deferred.
Deferred judgment is not an option in all cases. It is not available in cases involving forcible felonies such as murder, assault, kidnapping, sexual abuse and robbery. Those with previous felony convictions are not eligible. Deferred judgment is available in cases involving operating while intoxicated, but only on a first offense; those who have prior drunk driving convictions do not qualify.
Deferred judgment can provide a second chance for a person charged with a crime. By complying with all the terms of probation, the individual can avoid having the offense on a criminal record.
Source: Iowa Legislature, "Iowa Code §§ 907.1, 907.3, 907.9," accessed Dec. 4, 2016