Deferred Judgments

Information Regarding Deferred Judgments for University of Iowa Students:

This general information is not intended as legal advice. If you have a question about a specific legal issue, contact student legal services or another attorney.

A deferred judgment is a sentencing option under Iowa Law that allows a judge to withhold finding a defendant guilty and place the defendant on probation for a period of time. The judge may place any number of conditions on that probation. While the conditions vary based on the criminal charge and the sentencing judge, the defendant granted a deferred judgment is universally required to not have any additional law violations, other than minor traffic offenses like speeding, during the period of probation. If the defendant violates any of the conditions of probation, they will likely have their deferred judgment revoked and be required to return to the court for sentencing.  However if the defendant successfully completes the period of probation, the charge will be dismissed and the record of the case will be expunged.

There are several things a person must consider when deciding whether to request a deferred judgment. The first is that deferred judgments are limited. Iowa law allows a judge to grant two lifetime deferred judgments, but in practice it is less likely that an individual granted a deferred judgment will be granted a second one.  Deferred judgments are available for crimes ranging from simple misdemeanors up to non-forcible felonies. Because they are limited, a person should always think twice before taking a deferred judgment for a relatively minor case like a simple misdemeanor, because if they are charged with a more serious crime in the future, a deferred judgment may be unavailable.

Secondly, successfully completing a deferred judgment probation does not mean that the record of the incident is gone forever. Records of the arrest, the charge and the deferred judgment may be obtained from the Iowa department of Criminal Investigations even after the case has been expunged if the defendant signs a waiver of confidentiality form. In practice, many larger employers require just such a background check. In fact, even after a case in which a defendant received a deferred judgment is expunged, it is still treated as a conviction for federal purposes. Iowa law is is unclear on whether a deferred judgment is a conviction or not and generally depends on the purpose for which the record of the deferred judgment is being used: for protection of the public or  for punishment.

Thirdly, a deferred judgment probation may come with penalties that are more burdensome than simply paying a fine. Deferred judgment probation may include community service, writing letters of apology, and random drug testing.

Finally there may be other options to remove the record of the case from public view. In PAULA and Public Intoxication cases expungement is available if the defendant goes two years without any new criminal charges after the date of the original conviction. See our resources section for more information.