A deferred disposition agreement often provides a means to achieve dismissal of a criminal charge, although, unlike filing agreements, not all deferred disposition agreements call for outright dismissal upon compliance with conditions. For many years, it has been possible to defer the disposition of a criminal charge under a set of conditions that allow the defendant to earn a reward at the end of the trail. The Maine Rules of Criminal Procedure have long provided that a criminal defendant may be allowed by the court to withdraw his or her guilty plea, as long as the withdrawal occurs before sentence is imposed. In Maine’s first experiment with a “drug court,” Project Exodus, in Cumberland County in the mid-1990’s, defendants used to enter into drug court under a contract. In this model, the defendant pled guilty to a charge or charges up front under a lengthy written agreement that, among other things, called for sentencing to be delayed until the defendant either successfully completed or was ejected from the program. The agreement contained a good-outcome sentence, that the defendant was to receive upon successful completion, and a bad-outcome sentence, that the defendant was to receive for failing to complete the program. Defendants typically were required to plead to one or more felony charges up front. The reward for drug court success might be a sentence of probation on the original charge, or it might be withdrawal of the guilty plea, dismissal of the felonies and entry of a plea to one or more misdemeanors for fines. Several years ago, the Maine Legislature essentially codified this procedure by formally creating deferred dispositions. By statute, a deferred disposition is available for any Class C, D or E crime. The statute expressly addresses written agreements that call for plea withdrawal and outright dismissal of the charge or charges upon successful completion, and probably most deferred disposition agreements do call for outright dismissal at the end of the term. However, as was the case before the Legislature passed the deferred disposition statutes, the agreement between the state and the defendant might instead call, for instance, for withdrawal of plea and dismissal of a felony, to be replaced by a misdemeanor, or for mandatory minimum sentencing language to be removed from the charge so that a fine, only, may be imposed.
Deferred disposition agreements differ from filing agreements in significant ways. Between the two, a filing is clearly preferable for a defendant. In a filing agreement, a defendant is not required to enter a guilty plea, and successful compliance always results in charge dismissal. In a deferred disposition agreement, the defendant enters a guilty plea to a charge and, as discussed above, dismissal might or might not be the agreed-upon outcome for successful compliance. If dismissal is the agreed-upon outcome for successful completion, a person still might find that the initial entry of a guilty plea carries serious consequences. Under immigration law, for instance, the mere entry of a guilty plea has the same effect as a conviction, so a non-citizen still might find him or herself facing removal proceedings, or being barred from reentering the U.S. after travel outside the Country, even though the charge was ultimately dismissed. Also, because a deferred disposition involves entry of a guilty plea up front, if the state can prove by a more-likely-than-not standard that the person violated the agreement, the guilty plea stands and the matter proceeds straight to sentencing. Under a filing agreement, if the defendant violates the agreement the State may reinstitute criminal proceedings, but it must prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt, in a full blown criminal trial, before matters can proceed to sentencing. Also, deferred disposition agreements involve payment to the D.A.’s office of a “supervision fee.” In a filing arrangement, there is no supervision fee, although the imposition of court costs under a filing agreement might end up costing a defendant as much as a supervision fee in a deferred disposition arrangement.
Some prosecutors prefer deferred disposition agreements over filing agreements and some D.A.’s offices have largely stopped entering into filing agreements since the deferred disposition statutes were enacted. In any event, a deferred disposition agreement places in a defendant’s hands the opportunity to earn reduced punishment or outright dismissal of a charge that the defendant might otherwise have been stuck with. Not everyone is cut out for a deferred disposition though. Many people who face criminal charges live highly disordered lives and/or simply lack the motivation to successfully complete a deferred disposition agreement. In Cumberland County, the D.A.’s Office frequently offers deferred disposition agreements to first-time shoplifting offenders. These agreements require the defendant to perform a modest amount of community service, complete an online course dealing with shoplifting behavior and avoid criminal conduct during the deferred disposition term. It is remarkable to see the number of people who have not bothered to complete their community service or the online course upon their return to court one year after entry of their plea. Handed a golden opportunity, these people choose to accept a theft conviction that will hamper their employment prospects for the rest of their lives. There are, unfortunately, people who cannot be saved from themselves, but for those who are serious about turning things around, a deferred disposition can offer a great opportunity to do just that and to be rewarded for it by dismissal of a criminal charge, or at least a reduction in the penalty that will be imposed at the end of the deferred disposition term.
Ed Folsom, Biddeford, Saco, Portland, Maine Criminal Defense, OUI, DUI Attorney. York County, Cumberland County.