What is a “suspended sentence” in D.C.?

by Jamison Koehler on July 12, 2019
D.C. criminal defense lawyer

When sentencing a defendant to jail-time after a conviction in D.C. Superior Court, the judge will typically “suspend” all or a portion of this time.  The judge might decide, for example, that the defendant must serve 180 days in jail, execution suspended as to all but 60 days.  Alternatively, the court could suspend the entire sentence.  This is known as “ESS all” – or “execution of sentence suspended as to all.”  SeeD.C. Code § 16-710.  

What does this mean for the defendant?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, to “suspend” something is to “defer or delay” it.  It is to temporarily prevent an action, event or judgment from entering into force or continuing.  

In the case of a jail sentence, the defendant does not serve the amount of time that has been suspended. In the first case cited above, for example, the defendant would only serve 60 days in jail.  The remaining 120 days would be left “hanging over the defendant’s head.”  If the defendant did not satisfy all of the conditions of the sentence (if, for example, the defendant did not comply with the terms of probation), the court could decide to revoke probation and to sentence the defendant to all or a portion of this remaining time.  

Because of the defendant’s constitutional right to due process, the court could only make this decision after what is known in D.C. as a “show cause” hearing.  The court will typically have the probation officer begin such a hearing with an explanation as to why action might be necessary.  The court will also hear from both the government and the defense. If the judge decides to revoke the probation/terms of release, the court will proceed to sentencing.  At this time, the court could again suspend the jail time.  Alternatively, it could impose jail time for some or all of the remaining sentence.  

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