Suspended Sentences in Pennsylvania
You may have heard in the news at some point that a celebrity or some other peron’s criminal sentence was suspended by the judge presiding over his or her case. Have you ever then questioned, what is suspended sentence? In Pennsylvania, a judge presiding over a criminal case is permitted to suspend a criminal defendant’s sentence. Judges commonly do so, even in the notable case of a former pastor who plead guilty to stealing more than $40,000 from his 91 year old mother.
What is a Suspended Sentence?
The suspension of a sentence by a judge in a Pennsylvania criminal proceeding means by the criminal defendant. Typically a suspended sentence will be accompanied by certain conditions, such as the successful completion of a certain period of time on probation. For instance, in the case of the former pastor in the news article discussed above, his sentence included a term of imprisonment of five years that was suspended pending successful repayment of the remaining monies he had stolen from his mother as well as completion of 1,000 hours of community service. As it relates to certain types of offenses, however, a judge is prohibited from suspending a sentence, including but not limited to drug offenses committed with a firearm and certain sexual offenses. Therefore, a criminal defendant’s ability to obtain a suspended sentence is dependent on the offense of which the defendant has been charged and/or convicted. (If you are interested in further nformation regarding the statute relating to sentencing in Pennsylvania criminal cases, the entirety of the statute can be found here).
Can a Suspended Sentence be Reinstated?
Suspended sentences are often accompanied by the placement of a criminal defendant upon probation for a specified period of time. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a 1964 case that a sentence cannot be suspended indefinitely. Therefore, a trial judge who imposes a suspended sentence on condition that a criminal defendant successfully completes a fixed period on probation must actually set a fixed period of time upon which the criminal defendant is on probation in connection with suspending the individual’s sentence. The trial judge cannot simply suspend a sentence and put someone on probation for the rest of the defendant’s life. However, if the defendant commits a violation of his or her probation, then the sentencing judge is free to re-instate the sentence. Therefore, a criminal defendant whose sentence is suspended must be careful to abide by the terms pursuant to which his or her sentence was suspended.