A sentence given after the formal conviction of a crime that the convicted person is not required to serve.
In criminal cases a trial judge has the ability to suspend the sentence of a convicted person. The judge must first pronounce a penalty of a fine or imprisonment, or both, and then suspend the implementation of the sentence.
There are two types of suspended sentences. A judge may unconditionally discharge the defendant of all obligations and restraints. An unconditionally suspended sentence ends the court system's involvement in the matter, and the defendant has no penalty to pay. However, the defendant's criminal conviction will remain part of the public record. A judge may also issue a conditionally suspended sentence. This type of sentence withholds execution of the penalty as long as the defendant exhibits good behavior. For example, if a person was convicted of shoplifting for the first time, the judge could impose thirty days of incarceration as a penalty and then suspend the imprisonment on the condition that the defendant not commit any crimes during the next year. Once the year passes without incident, the penalty is discharged. If, however, the defendant does commit another crime, the judge is entitled to revoke the suspension and have the defendant serve the thirty days in jail.
Whether a conditionally suspended sentence is considered equivalent or complementary to a probation order or is considered an entirely distinct legal action depends on the jurisdiction. Under a probation order, the convicted person is not incarcerated but is placed under the supervision of a probation officer for a specified length of time. A person who violates probation will likely have his probation revoked and will have to serve the original sentence.
In some jurisdictions a postponement of sentencing is also considered to be a suspended sentence. A postponement of a criminal sentence means that the judge does not pronounce a penalty immediately after a conviction. Courts use postponement and conditionally suspended sentences to encourage convicted persons to stay out of trouble. In most cases courts will impose these types of conditional sentences for less serious crimes and for persons who do not have a criminal record. Where there is overcrowding in jails, suspended sentences for petty crimes may be used to prevent further congestion.