Deferred Prosecution Probation

Under G.S. 15A-1341(a1), certain defendants may, with court approval, be placed on probation pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement. To be eligible for this type of deferred prosecution the defendant must have been charged with a Class H or I felony or a misdemeanor, and the court must make findings that:

  • Prosecution has been deferred pursuant to a written agreement, with approval of the court, for the purpose of allowing the defendant to demonstrate good conduct;
  • Each known victim of the crime has been notified of the arrangement by subpoena or certified mail and has been given an opportunity to be heard;
  • The defendant has not been convicted of any felony or of any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude;
  • The defendant states under oath that he or she has not previously been placed on probation; and
  • The defendant is unlikely to commit another offense other than a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Form AOC-CR-610 guides the court through the requisite findings. The longest permissible term of probation for a deferred prosecution case is two years instead of the usual five. G.S. 15A-1342(a). If the defendant completes the deferred prosecution probation term or it is terminated early by the court, the defendant is immune from prosecution on the deferred charges. G.S. 15A-1342(i).

Prosecutors are also free to enter into non-statutory deferred prosecution agreements with defendants, and my sense is that many do (comments welcome on that front). Non-statutory arrangements may not, however, include supervision by the Division of Community Corrections. State v. Gravette, 327 N.C. 114 (1990).

Based on what I’ve heard, practices vary when a deferred prosecution probationer is alleged to have violated the conditions of his or her supervision. In some districts the alleged violation is reported to the court for a hearing; in others, the defendant is referred directly to the district attorney for prosecution. Changes made to the law in 2009 (S.L. 2009-372) helped clear up what ought to happen. Under the new law, violations of the term of a deferred prosecution must be reported to the court as they are in any ordinary probation case. G.S. 15A-1342(a1). A parallel change in G.S. 15A-1344 makes clear that all probationers must receive notice and a hearing under G.S. 15A-1345 before their probation may be revoked. The change corrected what had previously been a disconnect between the first clause of the sentence in G.S. 15A-1344(d) that began “[a] convicted defendant” and the later reference in the same sentence to “charges as to which prosecution has been deferred”—if charges were “deferred,” we wouldn’t be dealing with a “convicted defendant.” The change applies to hearings held on or after December 1, 2009.

With these changes in mind, deferred prosecution probation matters should be handled just like regular, post-conviction probation cases when it comes to extension, modification, and revocation. That’s what the court of appeals said about cases supervised under G.S. 90-96 in State v. Burns, 171 N.C. App. 759 (2005) (“In the absence of a provision to the contrary, and except where specifically excluded, the general probation provisions found in Article 82 of Chapter 15A apply to probation imposed under [G.S.] 90-96.”), and it seems like the same rationale would apply here.