According to this voluntary agreement between the government and the defendant, the defendant agrees to waive his/her right to a trial and to plead guilty to the charged offense. However, instead of proceeding directly to sentencing, the government provides the defendant with an agreed upon period of time (typically four months to a year) to complete an agreed upon set of conditions. Such conditions typically include some form of community service.
If the defendant completes these conditions successfully, the court allows him/her to withdraw the guilty plea, and the government will dismiss (nolle prosequi) the charges. This means that the defendant does not end up with a conviction on his/her record. If, however, the defendant fails to abide by his/her end of the agreement, the court will enter the guilty plea into the record and sentence him/her accordingly.
A person considering entering into such an agreement should be aware that, although successful completion of a DSA means that a person will not be convicted, some agencies – such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles – consider participation in a DSA as equivalent to a conviction.