The Big Three
In Oklahoma, when a defendant pleads guilty to a felony charge there are generally three things that the judge can do in response to the plea if there is no agreement between the defendant and the state.
Prison Sentence -- the judge orders the defendant to serve time in state prison
Suspended Sentence -- the judge orders the defendant to serve time in state prison but the judge also suspends the order so long as the defendant behaves in accordance with the rules and conditions of probation (the defendant is a convicted felon at this point)
The Positive Consequences of Deferred Sentencing
Not a Felon -- If the judge chooses to defer sentencing then the defendant is not a convict and therefore not a felon.
No Jail -- Well, mostly no jail. You can do a little jail time as a condition of deferred sentencing, but that's actually pretty rare. Also keep in mind that if a little jail is necessary to keep someone from being permanently labeled a felon, then it's probably worth it.
Case Dismissal -- If the defendant successfully completes their full probation then the case will be dismissed.
Expungement -- There are many circumstances in which expungement is possible and a successfully completed probation after a deferred sentence is at the top of the list. An expungement is absolutely necessary to get all of the benefits of a deferred sentence.
The Buts (there are always buts)
Costs -- Oklahoma is an expensive place to plead guilty, there will be probation fees, DA fees, court costs, restitution (sometimes) and these will generally add up to thousands of dollars. Each different agency involved generally needs to be paid separately.
Probation Officers -- not only do probation officers cost money, they will also want you to do stuff, like take drug tests, or get a job, or finish your GED. It's not always that busy, but be aware that they can visit you wherever you are and search you, your car, and your house as they like. Their job is to make sure you're on the straight and narrow. The nice thing is that Probation Officers often have a lot of resources for defendants, like lists of employers who are willing to hire people with convictions or deferred sentences.
Waiting -- there can be a lot of waiting involved. The judge can defer sentencing for up to seven (7) years. That seems like a long time but forever is longer (hopefully) to be a felon and with a deferred sentence the defendant can at least avoid that.
Arrest Records -- while the case is in deferred (probation) status there will be arrest records that anybody can access. These records are reachable by employers and while most employers don't care about deferred sentences, some do. I do what I can to help with such employers (writing a letter explaining the situation and making myself available to any employer that wants to talk about it), but ultimately sometimes a job will not be available because of the deferred case even though the defendant is not a felon. This is why the expungement is so important; it's worth it.
Acceleration -- If the Defendant fails to follow the rules and conditions of his probation then his sentencing can be accelerated. That means that instead of sentencing being deferred the prosecutor wants it to happen right now. This is avoidable though by following the directions of the probation officer and the rules set forth in the rules and conditions of probation.
Prior Conviction or Deferred Sentence -- A deferred sentence is not available to anyone with a prior felony conviction or deferred felony adjudication unless the prosecutor agrees to waive the prohibition on deferred sentencing for prior offenders. Whether the district attorney does so in any particular case depends upon many factors that will differ in each case. Also keep in mind that this is where that jail time mentioned above as a condition of probation might come in (e.g. sometimes they will waive the prohibition and give the defendant another deferred sentence if he agrees to spend some time in jail (no longer than 180 days per statute).
Overall, Deferred Sentencing is a Good Thing
A person who receives a deferred sentence upon a plea of guilty has received mercy from the court (and often the prosecutor) and it should be viewed as a second chance since it doesn't make the defendant a felon. There are still complications that will inevitably arise from having a criminal record and it must be kept in mind that an expungement is necessary to receive the full benefit of a deferred sentence.
If you need more information about a deferred sentence or the expungement necessary to take full advantage of it, talk to a criminal defense lawyer, call me at (405) 310-9890