What is a Plea in Abeyance? Why would I want one?

Everyone makes mistakes.  (Well, almost everyone.)  In Utah, Prosecutors and judges understand this.  If you make a mistake that isn’t too severe, the prosecutors like to give you a chance to prove you won’t do the same thing again.

On the other side, if someone gets the chance to correct their mistake and does something even worse, is it fair to let them get away with what they did wrong in the first place?  How do courts fix this conflict?

The answer is a plea in abeyance.

(Most of the time that I talk to people about this, they call it a “plea in advance.”  The English language doesn’t have ready equivalents to legalese terms like “abeyance,” which actually means that the plea is “held back for a time.”)

A plea in abeyance is like a contract between you and the prosecutor to keep you from having a conviction on your record.  This is usually a one-time deal – if you don’t have an extensive record, you can sometimes make an agreement with the prosecutor to dismiss the case, subject to the judge’s approval.

That’s right – the prosecutor will make a contract with you agreeing that you shouldn’t be convicted.  That’s not just exciting, it’s downright amazing!  If you successfully complete the plea in abeyance, you will not have a conviction; instead, the charge will be dismissed completely.

So what do you have to do to complete the plea in abeyance period?

First, there will be a probationary period attached to the plea in abeyance.  These periods of time vary according to the severity of the charge.  There is nearly always a fee attached to the plea in abeyance agreement, and depending on the charge, you often need to take classes as well.  If you comply with all of the terms of the plea in abeyance agreement, the court will dismiss your case when the probationary period is over.

By contrast, if you violate your probationary period, you can be sentenced on the charges without a trial.  This is what penalizes people who try to take advantage of the prosecutor with a plea in abeyance.

The hardest part is often the requirement that you enter a plea to take care of things.  Be aware, when I say “enter a plea,” I mean you are actually entering a plea.  You usually have to enter a plea of “guilty” to get a plea in abeyance.  Some prosecutors and judges will agree to a “no contest” plea in abeyance or, more rarely, what is called an “Alford” plea, but these are unusual situations.

By entering a guilty plea, you admit that you have done wrong, showing the court that you take responsibility for your actions.  In return, the court and the prosecutor let you prove that you won’t make a similar mistake in the future.

There are some circumstances where a plea in abeyance is not available.  Check with an attorney to find out if a plea in abeyance is available for specific charges or under specific circumstances.