Criminal Defence Articles

Does a Suspended Sentence go on a Criminal Record?

witness box

If you have been given – or suspect you might be given – a suspended sentence as punishment for an offence, you undoubtedly have questions about what this means for your day-to-day life. Most people are aware that suspended sentences mean you do not go to prison straight away, but what else do you need to know? In the remainder of this article, we consider key questions like ‘What is the purpose of a suspended sentence?’ and ‘Does a suspended sentence go on a criminal record?’, with more information on where to get help given at the end of this post.

What is a suspended sentence?

For some people, suspended sentences seem quite odd. They look and sound like a criminal punishment, but with one striking difference: you do not actually have to go to prison for the length of time stipulated in your sentence. But that does not mean that you are free to go back to ‘life as normal’. There are a number of strict conditions placed on your sentence that mean that one wrong move could land you right back in trouble.

Suspended sentences are a type of custodial sentence (the type of sentence that usually sends people to prison). The key difference is that the custodial (prison) element of the sentence is ‘suspended’ or ‘delayed’ for a period of time determined by the judge. If someone is given a suspended sentence of one year, for example, they will not go to prison straight away, but they will be placed under various restrictions for the duration of their sentence. These include being required to:

  • attend regular meetings with a probation officer
  • stick to a curfew (usually a time at night when the person must return home)
  • participate in unpaid work programmes (sometimes referred to as ‘community service’)
  • stay away from certain public places or events (such as town centres or sports matches)
  • remain a resident at a specified address
  • participate in prescribed rehabilitative or educational programmes
  • attend a drug or alcohol clinic for treatment

Suspended sentences can be handed down for between 14 days and two years. At any point during the sentence, if someone breaches one of their conditions or is suspected of committing another offence, they will be taken to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence (plus any new time for the latest offence, if found guilty).

What happens if you breach the conditions of a suspended sentence?

You are understood to have ‘breached’ your suspended sentence if you violate – or break – any of the conditions that are placed on the suspension. Examples include not turning up to unpaid work shifts, being present in a place that you are not supposed to be, or changing address without informing your probation officer. Unfortunately, an especially common means of breaching a suspended sentence is the commission of another offence.

If these things happen, you may be arrested again and taken to prison immediately. For the most part, it is the Crown Court that deals with breaches of suspended sentences, and they may require you to spend the rest of your sentence in prison.

What is the purpose of a suspended sentence?

Many people, understandably, wonder what the point of a suspended sentence actually is. Even with strict conditions, the punishment is – for most people – nowhere near as bad as being sent to prison, and this had led people to question the very purpose of a suspended sentence. Academic opinions on this vary considerably, but in practice there are some very good reasons why suspended sentences are handed down:

  • Suspended sentences often do a very good job of communicating the seriousness of criminal behaviour to an individual. For thousands of offenders every year, the threat of going to prison if they break the law one more time is enough to help them feel remorse for what they have done and focus on reforming their ways. This, ultimately, can be a very effective way of rehabilitating criminals.
  • Suspended sentences are a form of probation, i.e. a period of time under supervision by a probation officer. Probation officers perform a key role in the criminal justice system and in closely monitoring the activities and behaviours of offenders can often help prevent reoffending. Reoffending is a huge problem in Britain, with just less than 30% of all those warned or convicted of for a crime in Britain continuing to engage in criminal behaviour. The reoffending problem is even worse in those who serve prison sentences of less than 12 months, as over 60% of those individuals go on to commit further criminal activity. A suspended sentence allows a probation officer to monitor and supervise an individual for a longer period of time, and this is thought to be effective in reducing the risk of reoffending.
  • Suspended sentences, critically, reduce the actual number of people in prisons in the UK. The UK has a serious issue with overcrowding in prisons, with the Howard League for Penal Reform (one of Britain’s key organisations advocating better prison conditions) assessing that UK prisons currently hold around 8,000 more people than they are supposed to. UK prisons simply cannot accommodate the number of people served criminal sentences every year, and so suspended sentences are a preferred way of controlling – to an extent – an individual’s behaviour without actually incarcerating them.
  • Finally, suspended sentences give the courts an opportunity to prescribe rehabilitative or educational programming for an offender that is much more comprehensive than that which might be available in prison. Offenders may be required to attend treatment for their addictions, learn new skills, participate in community service, or undergo education and training to help them correct their criminal behaviour. These means are much more effective at reducing reoffending than prison time, according to many experts.

Does a suspended sentence go on a criminal record?

The short answer is yes, a suspended sentence does go on a criminal record. Remember that a suspended sentence is a type of criminal punishment, just like a custodial sentence. Indeed, save for the fact that you are not sent to prison, many other aspects of the conviction are treated just as seriously as a prison sentence.

The Police National Computer (PNC) keeps a record of all suspended sentences. As with other types of criminal record, a suspended sentence will stay on that record indefinitely, which means it might show up on criminal record checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which could be sent to your prospective employers, educational institutions, and other public bodies who examine criminal records prior to accepting or admitting people into their jobs and schemes.

The other downside of the suspended sentence remaining indefinitely on the PNC is that the details of the suspended sentence may be used against you in any future criminal proceedings.

All that said, there are times when a suspended sentence may not show up on your record. When someone applies for a DBS check, they have to select what level of check they want (i.e. how much detail they want on the record): basic, standard, or enhanced. The basic disclosure shows only unspent convictions, and the standard and enhanced disclosures show spent convictions.

If you are worried about a suspended sentence coming up on your criminal record under a DBS check, one of the best things you can do is consult a solicitor before you say anything to the enquirer (a potential employer, for example). Some convictions do not need to be disclosed, so it’s important you check in advance.

If you do have to disclose the conviction, remember to be upfront and honest with the enquirer about the fact that you have criminal history. Rather than letting them find out for themselves, try to explain the situation first and take the opportunity to stress how you have changed since the conviction. Many employers have no problem employing convicted individuals (unless they are prohibited to do so by law) as long as they show that they have reformed their behaviours.

How do I know if my suspended sentence is spent?

After a certain period of time has passed, a suspended sentence becomes ‘spent’. If a conviction is spent, it may not appear on your criminal record (depending on the level of disclosure requested, as mentioned above) and for all practical intents and purposes, the sentence can basically be ‘ignored’.

The period of time required for a conviction to become spent varies. It depends for the most part on what would have been the original custodial sentence. If the original sentence was for less than or equal to four years, the spent times are:

  • Sentence plus seven years, for sentences more than 30 months and less than or equal to 4 years.
  • Sentence plus four years, for sentences more than 6 months and less than or equal to 30 months.
  • Sentence plus two years, for sentences less than or equal to six months

For anything over four years, the conviction is never considered spent. This is true also for sentences that were handed down (at least in part) for public protection.

Where to get help with suspended sentences

If you need further information about suspended sentences and what they might mean for you or someone you care about, get in touch with the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our highly trained team has decades worth of experience handling criminal defence matters and will be able to advise you on the best course of action going forward. Contact our team today for a no-obligation consultation.

Further Reading

Emergency?

Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.