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Conditional Discharge: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Conditional discharge is a legal judgment that essentially states that a defendant is guilty of a minor crime; however, the defendant is not formally convicted and the judgment is removed from the individual's record after a period of time as long as various conditions are met.

Conditional Discharge

When an individual is caught breaking the law and punishment is being determined, it is clear that some violations of the law are objectively worse than others and the punishment doled out should be adjusted accordingly. In order to deal with minor crimes, the judgment of discharge may be handed down in an attempt to divert the individual from committing another offense in the future. There are two types of discharges available depending on the severity of the crime:

  • Conditional Discharge - A conditional discharge is slightly more severe than its absolute counterpart. It requires specific conditions to be met before the defendant is completely discharged. Additionally, the discharge will appear on their record for three years and will be removed when the period is finished.
  • Absolute Discharge - This discharge means that there is nothing further required of the defendant; they are discharged and will only have the crime on their record for one year, after which it will be removed. Essentially this means you have pled guilty to the crime but there is no conviction.

Both discharges are usually used for less serious offenses like theft under $5,000, possession of small amounts of marijuana, and other mostly non-violent crimes. Additional factors that play into the discharge is if the defendant has a criminal background already and if a conviction of a higher judgment will severely affect the defendant and the court believes this is unnecessary.

Conditions Required

Conditional discharges usually have specific conditions that must be met before the discharge will be officially granted. Also, if the conditions are not met, then the defendant will be officially convicted of the crime and not be able to remove it from their record. The conditions that can be required are:

  • Probation - The defendant has to not commit any other crimes within a specified time, such as six months to a year.
  • Drug/Alcohol Rehabilitation - Sometimes a condition can be that a defendant goes to rehab and then presents the certificate as evidence they finished the rehabilitation to the judge.
  • Community Service - Just like probation, community service can be required for a specific amount of time, as long as the defendant can prove that it was completed. However, if a defendant can show they normally do community service when they are being sentenced, it may push a judge to give an absolute discharge instead.
  • Counseling - Another condition might be to seek counseling dependent on the crime. Again there will have to be proof showing that they went for the specific number of visits.

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