A conditional discharge is a legal ruling that means there will be no record of your conviction provided you meet conditions specified by the judge. Because a conditional discharge remains on your record for three years, you should be honest with prospective employers rather than trying to hide the fact that you were in trouble. Depending on the nature and circumstances of your crime, a conditional discharge does not necessarily stand in the way of getting or keeping a job.
What Does Conditional Discharge Mean?
When you plead guilty or are found guilty of certain crimes, a judge can rule an absolute or conditional discharge. An absolute discharge means that you will have no criminal conviction provided you have no previous convictions on any charges. The absolute discharge stays on your record for one year. With a conditional discharge, you'll have a three-year probationary period and the conditional discharge will stay on your record for three years.
Discharge laws can vary from state to state. Your attorney can advise you on the applicable laws of the jurisdiction where you committed the crime. A conditional discharge in Georgia, for example, is often used for first-time drug offenders. According to Georgia Criminal Lawyer, the reasoning is simple: acknowledge that people make mistakes and give them an opportunity to change their behaviors.
Conditions to Be Met
The definition of conditional discharge is the setting of specific terms by which the guilty person can show remorse and demonstrate a change of behaviors. Wilson Criminal Defence lists some typical conditions that you may be required to meet for a period of six months to three years, at the judge's discretion:
- No traveling outside the court's jurisdiction
- Reporting to a probation officer
- Performing community service
- Abiding by a keep-the-peace order
- Abiding by a weapons or firearms ban
When you meet all the specified conditions within the time period established, your record will be permanently discharged.
How to Get a Conditional Discharge
Your lawyer has to ask the judge to consider granting a conditional discharge in your case. The judge may consider the nature of the crime, your personal circumstances and the circumstances under which the crime was committed.
When a Conditional Discharge Is Denied
Your request for a conditional discharge may be denied. If your offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge cannot sentence you to anything less. For example, as explained by Urbelis Law, a state's governing statute may specify a minimum jail sentence, state prison sentence or fine for a particular crime, and the judge is bound by that. In communities where a particular offense is common, the judge may deny a conditional discharge to make an example of you, as a deterrent to others.
Violating the Terms of Conditional Discharge
If you violate the terms of your conditional discharge, those terms will be revoked and the judge will sentence you to whatever sentences were available when you were initially charged. For example, if a judge had the option of fining you $1,000 but granted a conditional discharge instead, you will be liable for the fine.
A request for a conditional discharge can only be used once. If you commit a new crime during the conditional discharge period, the judge is not likely to show leniency.
Conditional Discharge and Employment
Because a conditional discharge only shows on your record for a maximum of three years, its effects are temporary and you will no longer be required to disclose the information to a prospective employer. In the meantime, however, a conditional discharge will show up in a background check and, depending on the employer, you may be denied a job or terminated from your current position, particularly if you work with children.
If your crime has nothing to do with your job description (such as a minor drug offense and duties associated with a restaurant server), you have a much better chance of getting or keeping a job with a conditional discharge.