Does a plea in abeyance dismissal mean “it never happened”?
I was sitting in a courthouse recently, waiting for the bailiff to unlock the courtroom, when I happened to overhear another attorney talking to his client about the effects of a plea in abeyance and the anticipated dismissal of the client’s case. The attorney explained to his client that once the case was dismissed, it would be as though “the whole thing never happened.”
The attorney was WRONG. But . . . there is a way to achieve the result that this attorney was describing. Keep reading to find out how.
What does a plea in abeyance really mean?
Having your criminal case dismissed is great. And in many cases, a plea in abeyance can be one of the best ways to get that dismissal.
But a dismissal is not the same as being able to say that “the whole thing never happened.”
When your case is dismissed, whether as a result of compliance with a plea in abeyance agreement, a successful motion to suppress, a legal motion to dismiss or quash the bindover, records of the case still exist. This includes police records, prosecutor files, investigative records, and court records. Many of these records are considered “public” records, and can be viewed by any ordinary person seeking information about you and your alleged criminal past.
A dismissal following a plea in abeyance can be particularly problematic. In most cases where your plea is held in abeyance, the court records will show that a guilty plea was entered, but the plea was held in abeyance. While the court docket will ultimately show the dismissal, it also shows that you admitted committing the crime charged.
What is the solution?
One partial solution to this problem is to use a “no contest” plea rather than a “guilty” plea when entering into a negotiated plea in abeyance agreement. This provides you with the same benefits in avoiding a conviction, having the plea held in abeyance, and obtaining a dismissal of the charges. But it avoids having a court record show that you admitted to committing the crime.
But using a “no contest” plea as part of an abeyance agreement only solves part of the problem. The court records, police records, investigative records, etc. may still be accesses by members of the public interested in finding out about your criminal charges. Additionally, the use of a “no contest” plea requires the consent of the prosecutor. In some cases, a prosecutor may insist that you enter a “guilty” plea if you want the benefit of having the plea held in abeyance.
Whether you enter a plea in abeyance agreement using a “guilty” plea or a “no contest” plea, one of the best ways to clear your record involves a petition for expungement. When successfully completed, the expungement process results in a court order sealing the prosecutor’s file, police reports, investigative reports, and court records. It also allows a person to respond to most questions as though the crime, arrest, and court proceedings “never happened.”
Even after a court has ordered records of a case to be expunged, there are certain limited circumstances under which the expunged records may still be accessed. The most common of these exceptions involve state licensing agencies. But for most situations, you can answer questions about your criminal history as though the whole thing never happened.
When can I have my plea in abeyance expunged?
Eligibility waiting periods for an expungement in Utah vary greatly depending on the outcome of the case. For example, a third degree felony conviction requires a seven-year waiting period – which does not begin to run until after probation, jail, or prison time is fully completed. By contrast, a plea in abeyance in a felony case that results in a dismissal allows for expungement eligibility just 30 days after the dismissal is ordered.
The expungement process can be complex, and may sometimes take a substantial period of time to complete. So starting the process as soon as you are eligible is often best.
Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help give you the best chance of achieving a plea in abeyance or other favorable outcome in your case. Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense attorney Stephen Howard provides legal services to clients throughout Utah.
Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.
RELATED CRIMINAL DEFENSE TOPICS
How do I find out if I am eligible for an expungement in Utah? Does a plea in abeyance still show on your Utah criminal record? How can I get my plea held in abeyance in Utah?