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Conditional Discharge Overview & Examples

Nathan Mahr, Elisha Madison, Lesley Chapel
  • Author
    Nathan Mahr

    Nathan has taught English literature, business, social sciences, history, and writing for over five years. He has a B.A. in Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington.

  • Instructor
    Elisha Madison

    Elisha has Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology, as well as a Bachelor's in Marketing. She has extensive experience creating & teaching curricula in college level education, history, English, business and marketing.

  • Expert Contributor
    Lesley Chapel

    Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Learn about conditional discharges by learning the definition of discharge and its nuances. Review the most common conditions for a conditional discharge. Updated: 03/21/2022

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Discharge Definition

In legal terms, the definition of discharge is the release of a person from his or her obligations. In the context of a criminal offense, the discharge of a person means that the person is no longer subject to the criminal law, and any proceedings against them are terminated. For example, if someone is found guilty of a crime and sentenced to three years in prison but then is pardoned by the president, they have been discharged from the obligations of the sentence.

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  • 0:04 Conditional Discharge
  • 1:28 Conditions Required
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What is a Conditional Discharge?

Conditional discharge is a type of sentencing that allows offenders to avoid prison time and criminal conviction. Still, it requires them to meet certain conditions, such as attending counseling sessions or drug rehabilitation, for a specified period of time. If the offender successfully completes the conditions of the sentence, they will not have to serve any additional time in prison. However, if the offender fails to complete the conditions of their sentence, the court may sentence the offender to prison time.

Petty theft and marijuana possession are two crimes that can illicit a discharge, especially if the defendant does not have any prior criminal history. For example, if a first-time offender was caught in possession of marijuana and sentenced with a conditional discharge, they may be required to attend drug rehabilitation classes.

Conditional discharge is also allowed for minor crimes that are not punishable by prison time. For example, if someone is caught driving without a license, they may be sentenced to a conditional discharge, which could require the person to complete a driver's education class.

Conditional Discharge vs. Absolute Discharge

Absolute discharge is a type of sentencing that completely frees the offender from all obligations, including any fines or community service. Unlike conditional discharge, absolute discharge does not require the offender to meet any conditions. This type of sentence is typically given to first-time offenders who have committed a minor offense. Additionally, an absolute discharge will result in no criminal conviction on the offender's record, but the discharge will appear on their record for one year. A conditional discharge can result in a three-year-long probationary period and can also appear on their record for up to three years.

What Does a Conditional Discharge Mean?

A conditional discharge is given when someone pleads guilty to a criminal offense, but the court decides it would be unjust to convict them and rejects the guilty plea.

This usually happens when the person has no previous convictions, they were not the main offender, or there are special circumstances surrounding the case which make a conviction inappropriate.

The offender will be given a set of conditions to comply with (such as attending counseling or drug rehabilitation). As long as they adhere to these conditions, they will not be convicted of the offense.

However, if they breach any of the conditions imposed upon them, they may be brought back to court and dealt with in the usual way.

A conditional discharge is a sentence that can be given for any criminal offense (excluding traffic offenses). The court will consider several factors before deciding whether or not to give a conditional discharge, such as:

  • The offender's age
  • The nature of the offense
  • The offender's character
  • The impact of a conviction on the offender

A conditional discharge is not a "get out of jail free" card. It is a sentence imposed by the court and should be treated as such.

If a person is given a conditional discharge, it is important to make sure that they comply with the conditions set out by the court, as breaching these conditions can result in them being brought back to court and being sent to prison.

If a person is issued a conditional discharge, their permanent record will show the conditional discharge but not a guilty plea. It will also show the conditions of the sentence, such as attending counseling sessions or drug rehabilitation. A discharge can have negative effects when applying to jobs due to criminal background checks and negative effects for traveling abroad due to customs.


A conditional discharge is given when someone pleads guilty to a criminal offense, but the court decides that it would be unjust to convict them and rejects the guilty plea.

Witness stand in courtroom


Conditional Discharge: Conditions

The conditions of a conditional discharge vary depending on the offense, the offender's criminal background, and jurisdiction. However, common conditions of a conditional discharge include:

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Conditional Discharge:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of approximately two to three paragraphs that explains the judgment of discharge and details the differences between conditional discharge and absolute discharge. Your essay should also discuss the types of crimes that usually involve conditional or absolute discharges.

Example: People who commit non-violent crimes are candidates for conditional or absolute discharges.

Essay Prompt 2:

In approximately one to two paragraphs, write an essay that explains the differences between the way conditional discharge is handled in the United States versus Canada. Also answer the following question in your essay: Why is it important for people who are being conditionally discharged to seek local legal counsel?

Example: In the U.S., the individual states decide how conditional discharges are conducted.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Create a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and describes the four conditions that can be required for conditional discharge. Your graphic organizer should also note what happens if the person that is discharged does not meet the required condition(s).

Example: Seeking counseling and showing proof of that.

Scenario Prompt:

In approximately one page, describe a scenario in which a conditional discharge is granted. Your scenario should provide the details of the crime committed, the conditions required for conditional discharge (and whether or not the person followed the requirements, and subsequent consequences if the requirements were not met), and how the person's record will be impacted by the conditional discharge.

Example: Patrick was given a conditional discharge for possession of a small amount of marijuana, illegal in his state of Louisiana. Patrick was supposed to attend a drug rehab facility as a condition of his discharge, but he didn't. As a result, he will not be able to remove the marijuana possession charge from his record.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is conditional discharge on your record?

A conditional discharge will appear on your criminal record for a certain amount of time, but it will not state that you pled guilty to the crime. The criminal record will show the discharge and the conditions of the sentence, such as attending counseling sessions or drug rehabilitation.

What are the conditions for a conditional discharge?

The conditions for a conditional discharge vary from case to case. However, the most common condition is that the offender must attend counseling sessions or drug rehabilitation. Other conditions may include community service, paying restitution to the victim, or wearing a tracking device.

What does conditional discharge mean?

A conditional discharge is a legal term that refers to a sentence in which the offender is released from custody or prison but must meet certain conditions, such as attending counseling sessions or drug rehabilitation. If the offender successfully completes the conditions of the sentence, they will not have to serve any additional time in prison. However, if the offender fails to complete the conditions of their sentence, the court may sentence the offender to prison time.

Is a conditional discharge a guilty plea?

In order to qualify for a conditional discharge, a person must plead guilty or be found guilty of the crime. However, in a conditional discharge case, the court does not accept the guilty plea. Instead, certain conditions will be imposed upon the defendant, and their permanent record will show the discharge for the duration of the probationary period.

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