Definitions

Suspended sentence

Suspended sentence

A suspended sentence is a legal construct. Unless a minimum punishment is prescribed by law, the court has the power to suspend the passing of sentence (generally for a period of three years) and place the offender on probation. It is the passing of the sentence, not the sentence itself, that is being suspended. This means that if the person is convicted of another offense during the period when the passing of sentence had been suspended, then the person may be sentenced for the original offence.

Suspended sentence is necessary for probation, but in cases where the penalty is recorded as suspended sentence it is often given to mitigate the effect of the penalty. It is common practice for judges to hand down a suspended sentence to first-time offenders who have committed a minor crime, and for prosecutors to recommend a suspended sentence as part of a plea bargain.

In Canada, a suspended sentence still results in a criminal record even though it is possible that no time is served or other penalty incurred.

In some states of the USA, such as Pennsylvania, suspended sentences have not been authorized by the legislature and are therefore illegal. Com. v. Hamilton, 488 A.2d 277 (Pa. Super. 1985); 42 Pa CSA s. 9721.

Some jurisdictions allow for suspended sentences to be imposed even for fairly serious crimes. An example is the use of suspended death sentences in China, where an offender receives what might appear to be a relatively lenient sentence, but will automatically be executed if subsequently convicted of any other crime. This is used as a way to offer offenders with no previous criminal record a second chance, but with very serious consequences if they fail to reform.

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