By Logan Quirk
Being found guilty of committing a crime is something that tends to stick with you. The blemish stays on your record, and you’ll live with the consequences of that. However, certain legal machinations such as absolute and conditional discharge can effectively wipe away that blemish.
Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in a situation where you’re facing the prospect of something being added to your criminal record. If that situation arises, though, you’ll be grateful to know about absolute and conditional discharges.
A discharge could be the thing you need to rectify a stupid mistake you made. Find out more about what it does and how it can help you out by continuing with the rest of this article.
What Is a Discharge?
To get things started, let’s first define what a discharge is in legal terms. A discharge is a sentence handed down by the courts. What makes this sentence different from the others is that a court may order that it doesn’t come bundled together with a penalty.
If you’ve received a discharge, you can count on not receiving any punishment. It will even remove the note on your record, which indicates that you were found guilty of committing a crime after a time.
The mistake you made does not need to stay with you for the rest of your life if you’ve been discharged by the court.
So, does a discharge sentence basically mean that you were found not guilty in your case? No, it’s the opposite.
The judge giving you a discharge means that you were indeed found guilty of committing some crime or violation. You did something wrong, and the court recognizes and acknowledges that as fact. That said, the crime or violation you did commit may be so minor that the judge has decided not to punish you in any severe way.
When someone commits a crime, it’s fair to expect that they will punish the individual in question. As the old saying goes, though, the punishment must fit the crime. For minor crimes, the courts may show leniency and opt not to hand down a major punishment.
The Types of Discharges
There are different types of discharge sentences that a court can hand down. The ones you’ll likely hear about most often are absolute and conditional discharges. Let’s define those terms better in this portion of the article.
Let’s start by talking about absolute discharges. Per Study.com, an absolute discharge means that the defendant does not need to do anything to have a clear criminal record.
The recipient of an absolute discharge will not be punished.
Technically speaking, a mark will appear on your criminal record, but it will only stay there for a little while. The mark on your record will stay there for about one year before it is officially removed.
Once the mark has been removed, you no longer need to worry about it. You can apply for a job or a loan without having to explain why there is a blemish on your criminal record.
In the eyes of the law, you were still found guilty of a crime. You may even have pled guilty to the crime. Still, the conviction was withheld in your case.
Courts tend to issue an absolute discharge in cases where they believe handing down any punishment would be inappropriate or unnecessary. The crime may be so minor that allowing it to weigh you down later in life would not be right or fair, at least in the opinion of the court.
The conditional discharge is a bit different from its absolute counterpart. Technically, you are still not being punished if you receive a conditional discharge. What you receive instead are conditions that you need to fulfill.
They will outline the terms of your conditional discharge in a probation order. Once you’ve determined the conditions of your discharge, you must follow them closely.
What happens if you fail to meet the terms of your conditional discharge? For starters, the court will likely revoke your conditional discharge. After that, they will likely convict and punish you per the crime you committed, according to Duhaime’s Law Dictionary.
It’s possible that you also committed another violation of some sort, which led to you violating the terms of your conditional discharge. They may add the penalties from that supplemental violation to the ones you will already face. Removing that conviction from your record may also no longer be an option moving forward.
One more thing you need to know about conditional discharges is that they don’t clear out your record right away. Unlike the absolute discharges that only require a year to pass before they take effect, you’ll need to wait three years before they remove the blemish from your criminal record.
What Are the Terms of a Conditional Discharge?
The terms included in conditional discharge are not universal. What a judge may order in one case could be significantly different from the terms outlined in your case.
In many cases, though, the terms take the form of tasks you need to complete or programs you need to undergo. We include notable examples below.
Judges often order defendants to render community service in minor cases. You should expect that to be part of the terms of your conditional discharge as well. The court will decide how many hours of community service you need to complete.
Maintaining a Clean Criminal Record
It probably comes as no surprise that your conditional discharge is contingent on you following the law. Steer clear of any potential offenses no matter how minor, and you should qualify for the conditional discharge.
If the crime you committed is related to alcohol or drugs, you may undergo counseling and/or rehabilitation before receiving a conditional discharge. You may need to complete a program to fulfill the terms of your conditional discharge.
Who Are Candidates to Receive an Absolute or Conditional Discharge?
Absolute and/or conditional discharges are not sentences they can hand down in every case. They will consider several factors in a case to see if the person who committed the crime should receive an absolute or conditional discharge.
Let’s talk about those factors below.
The Nature of the Crime
The factor that probably matters the most when courts try to decide if a person is eligible to be discharged is the nature of the crime they committed.
Individuals who committed violent crimes are not candidates to be discharged. Committing a sex crime is likely going to disqualify you from receiving the lighter sentences.
They only consider individuals who committed minor offenses for discharge. If the crime you committed directly caused another person harm, the court will not discharge you.
The Severity of the Crime
The courts may take a closer look at a case if it’s a drug-related offense or theft. They will do so to determine the severity of the crime you committed. Depending on how much money you stole or the quantity of drugs you possessed when they arrested you, you may be deemed eligible for discharge.
You may also remain eligible for discharge even if you accidentally hit another car. If the other driver is unharmed and the damage to their vehicle is minimal, you have a good chance of being discharged. Your chances go up if the reason you hit the other car was a simple mistake and not something caused by being intoxicated or reckless driving.
The Impact on the Defendant
How the potential penalties may affect the defendant will also be considered by the courts when weighing the possibility of handing down a discharge.
Let’s say that a defendant in a case is someone who’s still young. The judge may decide to issue a discharge in that case to protect the defendant’s future job prospects.
Requiring the defendant to pay a fine they clearly cannot afford could also be seen by a judge as unnecessary punishment. They may discharge the defendant in a case such as that.
The Criminal History of the Defendant
Absolute and conditional discharges are usually handed down to first-time offenders. Those who already have a criminal record are typically not candidates to be discharged.
The Effect on the Community
One more factor that the court may weigh when evaluating your case is how it will affect the community.
A recent string of burglaries may have taken place in your community, and you may be among those found guilty of that crime. To show that the law is not taking the crime spree likely, you may be convicted and punished accordingly.
The court may also decide to convict you to protect the community from your future actions if the crime you committed affects other people.
How Do You Secure an Absolute or Conditional Discharge?
Being convicted of a crime can have wide-ranging effects. We’re not only talking about jail time and fines here. That mark on your criminal record is something that can consistently rear its ugly head and prevent you from capitalizing on opportunities.
You should do everything you can to avoid having that mark go on your record. Trying to secure a discharge makes a lot of sense at that point.
The first thing you need to do if you want to secure an absolute or conditional discharge is to hire a lawyer. Your lawyer will be the one in charge of presenting your case to the court. They will highlight the specific reasons why you deserve to be issued a discharge.
Your lawyer can demonstrate how the court will not have any adverse impact on your community. You will likely discuss the factors mentioned in the previous section with your lawyer and why they should discharge you.
A lawyer can also help you collect evidence and talk to witnesses who will vouch for your character. The evidence and witness testimonies can show the judge that you are an upstanding member of society who made a mistake.
Securing a discharge typically also involves the defendant in the case pleading guilty to the crime. That’s another thing that your lawyer should help with.
Is There an Alternative to Securing an Absolute or Conditional Discharge?
Since both the absolute and conditional discharge can take a while before they wipe your record clean, you may be interested in something that can take effect sooner. In that case, you may want to consider negotiating for a formal deferral.
A formal deferral involves the defendant and the prosecutor making a deal. A formal deferral agreement is quite similar to a conditional discharge in the sense conditions are involved. The prosecutor will lay out the terms in the deferral agreement, and you must abide by them if you want your case dismissed.
The prosecutor may also require you to admit to the crime, but you will not formally enter a guilty plea.
If you cannot meet the terms of the deferral agreement, the prosecutor will likely move forward with the case. Notably, you can still try to secure a discharge even after failing to meet the terms of your deferral agreement. The fact that you were unable to fulfill those conditions in the deferral agreement may give the court some pause when deciding to issue you a discharge, though.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone also deserves a second chance to set things right. Seeking an absolute or conditional discharge in your case can give you the clean slate you need moving forward.
We at the Quirk Law Group can help you secure that discharge. Contact us today and learn more about the different ways we can provide legal assistance.