Across the country, ban the box laws have come into force to change when employers ask about convictions. However, that isn’t true in a large swath of the country. In many places, job applications still ask criminal history questions. Even when they don’t, hiring managers use tools such as criminal background checks. In either situation, someone with a deferred adjudication for a crime may not know what to expect. They may not understand how to answer certain questions, either.

Consider a job-seeker filling out a form to apply for work. On one page, the company asks applicants if they have ever had a criminal conviction. That kind of question is not easy for someone with a deferred judgment. The case isn’t closed, but this person doesn’t have an actual conviction. Does a deferred judgment show on a background check? Should you check the box, say “yes,” and explain? Or can you simply avoid mentioning it?

Developing a clear understanding of this scenario first requires a closer look at this less-common criminal history status. First, explore what this term means in practice.

What is a deferred adjudication?

A deferred adjudication is not a finding of guilt. It goes by many other names, too. You might hear it called an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.” In some places, you might hear “probation before judgment.” All these terms refer to the same thing: a type of plea deal. A defendant can avoid an immediate, formal criminalization by taking this deal.

The defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest to start. For doing so, the court offers the individual a chance to avoid prison time. Instead, the accused must complete a diversion program or probation period. Such diversions may be drug rehab, community service, or even anger management training.

A deferred adjudication is not a conviction. A judge has not technically found you guilty of breaking the law. As such, your criminal record will not contain a conviction record. If you’re asked whether you’ve been convicted of a crime, you could say “no.” However, some employers may ask you about pleas you’ve made. Since deferring a conviction usually requires a guilty plea, you should answer “yes” to such questions.

If an individual violates the terms of their pre-trial agreement, they face consequences. Failing to meet the terms could mean a deferred adjudication becomes a real conviction. The person could then face jail time, fines, and other consequences.

State-specific examples of deferred judgments

Many states offer deferred judgments as an alternative to jail time. This opportunity is often available for many first-time offenders. The goal is to reduce prison populations and give individuals a “second chance.” The eligible types of charges may vary significantly from place to place. The function of deferred judgments may differ between states, too. Before answering “yes” or “no” on an application, you should understand the specifics of the law in your area.

What does deferred adjudication mean in Texas? Texas uses a definition very similar to the one we’ve established here. Only a judge in Texas can enter court orders deferring someone’s sentence. If an applicant completes their term of probation, they do not receive a conviction. The charge and plea may still appear on someone’s background report unless they petition to have the record sealed. Doing so requires an order of nondisclosure. Deferred judgment is not the same thing as community supervision in Texas, which may involve a real conviction.

Let’s pivot to a very different area of the country from Texas to compare and contrast. What is deferred adjudication like in Massachusetts? In this state, the term is “CWOF.” That stands for “continuance without a finding.” This is a type of adjudication involving a guilty plea. Massachusetts also has “pre-trial probation,” which does not involve a guilty plea. Both types may need to undergo sealing to hide them from a background check after completion of their terms. A CWOF is more likely to appear on a Massachusetts background check because it involves a guilty plea.

Does a deferred adjudication show up on a background check?

Whether a deferred adjudication is on a background check depends on several factors. In general, however, the answer is yes. You should expect a deferred adjudication to appear on your background check report. This outcome is especially likely if you entered a “guilty” plea. Although does not include arrest records in its reports, courts may report pleas entered for criminal charges. As a result, there is a chance that an employer might see a deferred sentence on your background check.

So, how should you answer job application questions about criminal convictions? Remember, you can still say “no” if the question is, “Have you ever been convicted?” You’ll only have a conviction if you violate the terms of the pre-trial diversion program.

Will a deferred adjudication keep me from getting a job?

Employers making hiring decisions based on their own criteria. Background check companies don’t make that call. Whether a business decides your criminal record is a barrier to employment is hard to predict. For those reasons, some may suggest disclosing your deferred sentence early in the process. During the job interview, someone may choose to disclose that their report will show a deferred judgment. They may explain the circumstances and share information on their rehabilitative measures. Some hiring managers may appreciate this early disclosure.

In other cases, there may be little to worry about. Ban the box jurisdictions prohibit employers from asking anything before making a conditional job offer. That time gives you a chance to demonstrate your suitability more thoroughly. You may also still choose to disclose the charge as a matter of honesty or concern. However, employers won’t learn about the charge until after evaluating you as an applicant.

Do deferred charges disappear from my background check?

It is a common misconception that a deferred charge will disappear once you complete the program. Indeed, there is no longer a risk of a conviction or imprisonment for that charge. However, it may remain on your record. In some cases, such as for some types of felonies, that charge will stay on your record for years. In other cases, you may ask to have it removed.

States such as Texas allow for the sealing of such criminal records after the completion of the sentence. Other states allow for criminal record expungement, which does erase the charge entirely from your record. In both cases, you may need to pursue a court-related process to cleanse your record. Some states with new automatic Clean Slate laws may wipe these charges away after a conviction-free waiting period of five, seven, or sometimes ten years.

Not sure what employers might see when they order your background check? Deferred adjudications can make it tricky to know what to expect. You can find out today for greater confidence. Consider ordering your own background report today from See what employers see and consider your next steps today.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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