A felony sentence with a stay of adjudication is a positive result in many Minnesota criminal cases. This type of sentence allows you to avoid a conviction for the crime and have the charge dropped or dismissed after satisfying the conditions. It requires you to enter a guilty plea. The court, however, does not accept your guilty plea. Instead, the court puts you on a period of probation.
The probation period can be a couple of months or even years. It can be a supervised period that requires regular check-ins and periodic alcohol or drug testing. It can also be an unsupervised period. A stay of adjudication may also require you to stay crime free. The court may find you guilty of a probation violation if you violate any of the conditions of the probation. If that happens, the court may cancel the stay, impose the stayed sentence, and enter a conviction.
What Is a Stay of Adjudication?
A stay of adjudication refers to delaying or postponing a conviction. This delay or postponement has some conditions, however. Those conditions can range from jail or community service to paying restitution and court costs to completing alcohol/drug treatment programs.
The court ultimately dismisses your charge if you successfully satisfy all the conditions of the stay. It also does not enter a conviction in your criminal record. In other words, a background search will not reveal a prior conviction in your record.
Failure to satisfy the conditions may force the court to terminate the stay and enter a conviction on your record. Stays apply to nearly all offenses, from misdemeanors to gross misdemeanors to felonies.
Note that your offense records, including arrest and guilty plea, will be accessible to law enforcement officers and courts even if your criminal history is unavailable in the public database. As such, the judge and prosecution team could view your previous adjudication if you get arrested for a similar or related offense.
Some federal laws, such as immigration laws, categorize the dismissal of charges following a stay of adjudication as a conviction. So, ensure you work closely with a federal criminal defense lawyer when facing a federal charge. Your lawyer will discuss the consequences of a federal stay and other options for avoiding a conviction available in your situation.
Benefits of a Stay of Adjudication
It Does Not Qualify as a Conviction
Minnesota law does not consider a stay of adjudication a conviction. So, you will not suffer the collateral consequences of a prior conviction on your criminal record. A misdemeanor charge, for instance, can cause you to lose your job or professional license.
The consequences can be even more severe if you get convicted of a felony offense. You might struggle with getting a job or renting an apartment. You might also lose your voting or firearm possession rights.
It is important to note that a felony charge can impact your child in Minnesota if the child is found guilty. A stay might be a favorable outcome in such a case. It can help your child avoid a conviction and the resulting collateral consequences, provided the child complies with all the court-ordered conditions.
It Avoids a Criminal Trial
Criminal trials are costly and lengthy. They also often result in the entry of criminal convictions in public records. Negotiating for a stay of adjudication with the help of your defense attorney can help you avoid a trial and protect your reputation.
It Results in Less Harsh Punishment
You do not have to pay hefty fines or serve lengthy prison time. Instead, you only need to comply with the conditions of your stay in Minnesota. As mentioned earlier, these conditions can include community service, routine check-ins with a probation officer, or completing an alcohol/drug education program.
Getting an Expungement is Easy and Fast
Besides the dismissal of your charges, a stay of adjudication places you in a better position to get an expungement. You will qualify for a statutory expungement 12 months after meeting all the conditions of your probation. Once the court grants an expungement order, your initial arrest or citation will no longer appear on your background checks.
Drawbacks of a Stay of Adjudication
Some Records Are Ineligible for Expungement or Sealing
The record of a stay for homicide, manslaughter, sex crimes, and other specific felony offenses does not qualify for expungement. The outcome is that this information will appear in your background check.
You May Fail Some Background Checks
You will need to answer in the affirmative if a potential employer asks if you have ever been arrested or faced a criminal charge. This applies even if your charges got dismissed after completing a stay of adjudication in MN successfully.
Punishment for Criminal Convictions in the Future May Be Severer
Minnesota presumptive sentencing guidelines in felony cases usually treat stays of adjudication the same as convictions. As such, a record of stay of adjudication could result in a harsher sentence if you are found guilty of a felony in the future.
Some Jurisdictions Treat Stays of Adjudication as Convictions
The benefits of stays do not go beyond the Minnesota state boundaries. Some federal laws treat them as convictions.
Do I Qualify for a Stay of Adjudication in Minnesota
Qualification varies by case. Your defense lawyer may sometimes secure you a plea deal that comprises a stay of adjudication after an aggressive negotiation with the prosecutor. Other times, the judge may choose to grant it.
Some states also have laws that might make some categories of criminal defendants eligible for stays. Minnesota, for instance, has a compulsory stay of adjudication statute for some first-time drug offenders. Many first-time offenders charged with a fifth-degree controlled substance crime may be eligible for this compulsory stay.
They must, however, meet certain conditions to be eligible. These conditions include:
- No previous felony convictions;
- No prior participation in a diversion program;
- No previous compulsory stays of adjudication.
Violating the Terms of a Stay of Adjudication in Minnesota
A stay of adjudication carries multiple conditions that an offender in Minnesota must meet. These conditions depend on the specific details of the alleged criminal incident, the nature and severity of the crime, and the offender’s criminal history. As such, these conditions vary from one offender to another.
A judge can impose any term or condition the judge deems appropriate, provided it is relevant to the crime you committed. A violation of the terms of the stay implies that you did not follow or complete the requirements. The judge could order you to follow additional requirements or enter the stayed conviction if the judge determines that you violated the terms of the stay.
Violations can be either direct or technical. Direct violations refer to deliberate failure to meet the court-ordered conditions. An example is failing an alcohol/drug test or missing drug treatment or counseling sessions.
Technical violations cover offenses that are generally unintended. An example is when you wrongly believe you have completed your probation period. In this case, you can argue that the violation happened because of an error.
Probation Violation Hearing in Minnesota
A Minnesota probation violation hearing usually begins with a bench warrant or summons. A bench warrant allows authorities to arrest and bring you to court. A summons requires you to appear in court. These legal documents must contain your name, a summary of the alleged violation, and the judge’s signature to be deemed valid.
Probation violation hearings follow a two-step process: Admit/deny hearing and contested probation violation hearing.
This hearing refers to the first court appearance. You have a chance to either admit or deny the purported violation. You are entitled to the same rights as defendants in criminal proceedings. Authorities have a legal duty to inform you of those rights before the hearing starts. They include the right to a lawyer, the discovery of all available evidence against you, and take the stand in your case. You also have a right to present aggravating or mitigating factors that may have contributed to your violation.
Ensure you have your defense lawyer present during an admit/deny hearing. A knowledgeable lawyer can review the details of the alleged violation and evidence against you to advise you on the best step to take. The lawyer can also ensure you understand your rights and take the necessary steps to protect those rights.
Contested Probation Violation Hearing
This second hearing happens when you deny the alleged probation violation in the first court appearance. The authorities will advise you of your rights as it happens with admit/deny hearing.
A contested probation violation hearing consists of two parties – you and your defense lawyer, and the prosecution team and probation officer. Each party will get an opportunity to present its evidence and arguments. A judge will then examine the evidence and arguments presented by both parties and rule whether you violated the conditions of your probation.
Is there a Difference Between a Probation Hearing and Criminal Trial?
A probation hearing differs from a criminal trial in two main ways. The first is that only a judge is in charge of the hearing – no jury. The other one is that the prosecution’s burden of proof is lower.
A criminal proceeding requires the prosecution team to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the alleged crime. A probation hearing requires the prosecutor to demonstrate clearly and convincingly that you are liable for violating the terms of the probation.
How to Prepare for a Probation Violation Hearing
Continuing to follow the terms of your probation is one of the effective ways to get ready for a probation violation hearing. Evidence that you continued to comply with the court-ordered conditions can be helpful in your case.
Another effective way is to involve your criminal defense lawyer soon after getting accused of probation violation. Your lawyer will guide you on what to do (and common mistakes to avoid) to maximize your chances of winning. The lawyer will also collect evidence to prove that you met the probationary requirements. Other ways your lawyer can help you fight your probation violation charges include:
Identifying the Best Defense Against the Violation
There are many defenses against probation violations. The best one for your situation will, however, depend on the unique details and circumstances of the alleged probation violation. Your lawyer can investigate your case and analyze all evidence against you to determine the best defense for your situation.
Let’s, for instance, assume that a judge grants you a stay of adjudication for a driving while intoxicated (DWI) offense. The judge then orders you to complete a substance abuse treatment program as a condition of your stayed sentence, but you fail to do so.
This failure amounts to a probation violation. Your lawyer can, however, compile evidence required to demonstrate that a mistake in the documentation or implementation kept you from complying with this condition. An example is that you never got any notice that you were required to complete this program.
Negotiating with the Prosecutor
Your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor to get you a less harsh sentence, which may include a stay of adjudication if the evidence against you is solid. The lawyer can also fight for lesser charges or even dismissal if the probation violation involves a new crime.