Deferred Adjudication

The term “deferred adjudication” goes by several other names, including probation before judgment (PBJ), deferred entry of judgment (DEJ), and, perhaps more commonly, adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACOD). A deferred adjudication is a type of plea bargain wherein a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the charges against him. In exchange for this plea, and for the defendant meeting certain requirements set by the court, he may be able to avoid a formal conviction on his record. To explore this concept, consider the following deferred adjudication definition.

Definition of Deferred Adjudication


  1. A plea deal wherein a defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the charges against him and can have the charges dismissed in exchange for his meeting the court’s requirements.


1685–1695       Late Latin         (adjūdicātiōn)

Deferred Adjudication Procedure

With regard to the deferred adjudication procedure, a criminal case still often remains part of a person’s permanent record, even if he receives a deferred adjudication. However, the information the court will disclose varies depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, if a record is “sealed,” or closed to the general public, this does not mean that law enforcement cannot see it. It may also be viewable in certain situations, such as if the person tries to take a job with the military or a governmental agency.

Deferred Adjudication and Background Checks

Anyone who receives an offer of deferred adjudication should first consult with his attorney to make sure he understands its terms. For example, a deferred adjudication may include a clause directing certain jurisdictions to prohibit anyone from viewing the person’s record, no matter whether he is applying for a public or private sector job. It all depends on the terms the individual agrees to when he takes his plea.

Applying for a Job

When applying for a job, the individual may not know whether he should disclose his case in the spot on the application that asks about any prior convictions. However, if he agreed to a deferred adjudication, then the judge did not technically find him guilty, and therefore he did not technically receive a conviction as defined by law.

He must be careful when reading the application though, because some companies ask about “convictions,” while others ask about pleading guilty or no contest. If the application asks the latter, then he must be truthful and put down his deferred adjudication. Even if the wording of the application does not require it, the applicant should still put his deferred adjudication on the application in case the background check pulls it up anyway. That way, the employer does not think he is deliberately trying to hide the truth.

The Difference between Deferred Adjudication and Probation

While it may seem like deferred adjudication and probation are the same thing, there are differences between the two. For example, deferred adjudication is actually a type of probation, with probation being supervision of the defendant with certain conditions in exchange for jail time. The below is a list of some of the additional differences between deferred adjudication and probation:

  Deferred Adjudication Probation

Formal Conviction?







Conviction Goes on the Defendant’s Permanent Record?



Depends on the circumstances of the case









Can include probation, a treatment program or rehabilitation, community service, or some form of supervision

Can include counseling, rehab for drugs or alcohol, meetings with a parole officer, getting and keeping a job, avoiding criminal activity, avoiding contact with other criminals or victims, and/or a temporary ban on leaving the jurisdiction



When Is It Unavailable?



In cases involving DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or DWLS (Driving While License Suspended)

In cases involving the use or display of a deadly weapon, capital murder, or aggravated cases of kidnapping, sexual assault or robbery. Also, the sentence must be for a period of less than 10 years.

Consequences If the Defendant Violates Its Terms?



He receives up to the maximum sentence that his crime allows.


He receives his original sentence.

Deferred Adjudication Example Concerning Texas

There is a lot of information available with regard to how Texas in particular handles deferred adjudication, and with good reason. Texas provides a good example of deferred adjudication with the way the state handles its criminal cases.

When a Texas court puts a defendant on deferred adjudication, this means that he is on probation for a set period. If he completes his probation successfully, then the court dismisses his case. The court requires him to enter a guilty plea, but he is not technically guilty as defined by law. Instead the court puts off, or “defers,” a guilty finding. If the defendant thereafter applies for a job, his potential employer will see the arrest and the deferred adjudication, but they will not see a conviction because one does not exist.

The reason why courts prefer deferred adjudication over straight probation is because with deferred adjudication, if the defendant violates his probation for any reason, the court has leniency in how to sentence him. Probation, on the other hand, comes with a set sentence. So, if a defendant agrees to a two-year prison sentence if he violates his probation, and then he violates it, he goes in for two years. With deferred adjudication, the court may sentence him to anywhere from two to ten years in prison for the violation.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Adjudication – A judicial sentence or decision made by the judge or jury in a court of law.
  • Conviction – A formal declaration that a person is guilty of committing a crime, made by a judge or jury in a court of law.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Plea – A defendant’s response to criminal charges or a legal declaration.
  • Plea Bargain – An agreement between the prosecutor and defendant in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to some of the charges, or a lesser charge, in exchange for a reduced sentence, or some other concession by the prosecution.
  • Probation – The release of an offender from prison or from a potential prison sentence, provided he complies for a time with the conditions outlining good behavior under the supervision of a probation officer.