Differences Between Probation and Deferred Adjudication in Buffalo, MN

In all but the most serious offenses, such as murder, almost everyone receives probation, unless they have lengthy criminal records. That’s especially true if there is any hope whatsoever that the defendant might be rehabilitated.

For the most part, incarceration is entirely punitive. That’s not true in all cases. A few inmates are “scared straight,” and a few others have religious experiences or acquire necessary life skills, like a GED. But the prison recidivism rate is over 80 percent. So, there is obviously not much rehabilitation behind bars. On a related note, prison is much more expensive than probation and also more of a hot-button political issue. These facts are not lost on Minnesota lawmakers.

Typically, either regular probation or deferred adjudication may be available. A Buffalo, MN felony lawyer will carefully review the pros and cons of each option. Nothing can substitute for a face-to-face consultation and complete representation, but a brief outline of the similarities and differences is below.

Minnesota Probation and Deferred Adjudication Statistics

The North Star state has one of the lowest incarceration rates in America. In fact, in 2014, Minnesota had the 4th lowest incarceration rate. However, this statistic can be misleading.

In the US, Minnesota actually has one of the highest justice system volumes. In other words, Minnesota has a lot of criminals, but the majority of them aren’t in jail. So, where are these other criminals?

Minnesota places vastly more convicts on probation than in jail or prison. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are 123,000 criminals currently in the Minnesota state justice system. 95,000 people, or over 77% of MN criminals, are currently on probation.

Among criminals who are on probation, the majority receive between 50 and 150 months. The low-end probation period is for crimes like assault and property crimes. Courts reserve high-end probation periods for more serious crimes, including sex offenses.

The probation period also depends on location. Research shows that the average probation period for a Minneapolis criminal is a little more than three years. Compare that to the average probation period in St. Cloud, Minnesota: over seven years.

Further, getting probation vs. jail time also differs by race. White criminals are far more likely to not be in jail, with only 216 out of 100,000 white people incarcerated in 2010. Compare that to the highest incarceration rate — that of American Indian people, which was 2,646 per 100,000 American Indians in 2010.

What Are Probation and Deferred Adjudication in Minnesota?

Probation and deferred adjudication are two sentencing options in Buffalo, Minnesota. These outcomes look highly similar at first glance.

We’ll talk about the differences between these two punishments next. But first, let’s discuss what probation and deferred adjudication are, exactly, in Buffalo, MN.


Probation is typically an alternative to jail or prison time in Minnesota. After a court convicts an offender of a crime, a Buffalo criminal defense lawyer can request probation instead of jail time. Importantly, probation doesn’t mean the offense gets wiped off the offender’s record.

During probation, the offender will also have to fulfill certain court-ordered conditions of probation. The exact conditions a court will order varies based on the nature and severity of the crime. For example, a drug crime offense might earn someone monthly drug testing and narcotics awareness courses.

Sometimes, an offender might only receive probation to the court. This usually applies to cases where the offender’s only condition is that he or she not commit another crime while on probation.

Offenders with more probation conditions than abiding by the law alone may instead have to answer to a correctional officer. Probational correction officers are also known as probation officers in Minnesota.

The exact length of the probationary period also varies by crime. In general, offenders must be on probation for anywhere from one to six years. After the offender completes probation, the crime will stay on his or her record unless expunged.

Deferred Adjudication in Buffalo, MN

In Minnesota, deferred adjudication is also known as deferred probation or a “stay of adjudication.” Though deferred adjudication requires an affirmative defense (i.e., you must admit a guilty plea), this outcome is highly desirable in criminal cases.

Why? Because deferred adjudication means that the offender doesn’t receive a conviction. Offenders who receive stays of adjudication can get their charges removed from their records.

However, these individuals must first meet the terms of the stay. What are “terms of the stay”? The exact terms of a stay of adjudication vary by crime and individual.

Terms of a stay commonly include statements requiring the offender to stay crime-free for at least a year. Other terms might enforce mandatory community service, fines, and certain courses (e.g., drug and alcohol awareness, self-improvement classes, etc.).

As long as the offender fully completes the stay of adjudication’s terms, the court will expunge the charge from his or her record.

If the offender doesn’t complete the terms of the stay of adjudication, the offense will remain on his or her record until it’s eligible for expungement. It’s also up to the judge whether the offender must also serve jail time and/or pay fines.

Which Crimes Qualify for Probation and Deferred Adjudication?

Were you recently charged with a crime in Buffalo? A Minnesota criminal defense lawyer can help you decide whether probation or deferred adjudication is right for you.

We’ve compiled the top crimes that do and don’t qualify for these sentencing options below to give you a head start.

Which Crimes Can Receive Deferred Adjudication in Buffalo, MN?

Section 152.18 of the Minnesota Statutes mandates deferred adjudication for some first-time drug charges. This includes third-, fourth-, and fifth-degree drug possession crimes. Deferred adjudication is also applicable to:

  • Schedule V drug possession
  • Small amounts of marijuana possession
  • Synthetic cannabinoid possession and/or sale

In order to qualify for deferred adjudication, the crime must be a first offense. The offender must also not have any prior stays of adjudication related to a drug offense.

Which Crimes Can Receive Probation in Buffalo, MN?

Minnesota courts typically prefer probation over jail time. This is because probation costs less than prison. And some studies show that probation may actually reverse mass incarceration rates, cutting costs even further.

As such, offenders can receive probation for almost any crime in Minnesota. This includes misdemeanor crimes, gross misdemeanors, and even felonies. Following is a list of crimes for which probation is a sentencing option:

  • Misdemeanor crimes, including DWIs, Indecent Exposure charges, and Domestic Assault.
  • Gross Misdemeanors, including Criminal Vehicular Operation (CVO) and fifth-degree sex crimes
  • Felonies, including felony-level CVO

Felony offenders can receive a max of four years probation. The only exception is felony-level CVO, which incurs a six-year maximum probation sentence.

Most gross misdemeanor crimes can earn offenders up to two years of probation. However, the gross misdemeanor crimes we listed above incur up to six years maximum probation.

Excepting the misdemeanor crimes we listed above, offenders with misdemeanors can earn up to one year of probation. Petty misdemeanors aren’t eligible for jail time and, thus, ineligible for probation.

Similarities Between Regular and Deferred Probation in Wright County

As far as the defendant is concerned, regular probation and deferred adjudication are exactly the same. After appearing before a judge and pleading guilty or no contest, the defendant meets with a probation officer who reviews the conditions of probation. Some of these conditions include:

  • Commit No Other Offenses: About 75 percent of all motions to revoke probation are based on subsequent offenses. Sometimes, prosecutors jump the gun and file motions to revoke immediately after arrest. A good Buffalo, MN felony lawyer can often at least delay revocation proceedings in these situations.
  • Failure to Report: This offense is probably the second most common infraction. Normally, probationers must report monthly and produce certain documents, such as school transcripts or paystubs, to show they are on the straight and narrow. Typically, prosecutors do not file revocation motions unless the defendant misses multiple meetings without explanation.
  • Monetary Delinquency: Probationers must pay fines and court costs. They must also pay monthly supervision fees. If the motion alleges no other violation, a Buffalo, MN felony lawyer may be able to get the case thrown out on constitutional grounds. Debtors’ prisons are illegal in the United States.
  • Failure to Meet Program Requirements: Probationers must also complete community service requirements, attend self-improvement classes, and fulfill other such requirements. If prosecutors file motions to revoke on these grounds, and it is rare to do so, they usually withdraw them if the defendant complies immediately.

Most probation conditions also include a catch-all provision, such as avoiding disreputable activities and places. This provision gives probation officers an excuse to require random drug tests and force the probationer to submit to warrantless searches.

A motion for early discharge from regular or deferred probation may be an option, in some cases. If the judge grants the motion, defendants are immediately released from all requirements.

Some Key Differences Between Probation and Deferred Adjudication

Regular probation goes on a defendant’s permanent record as a conviction, just as if the defendant received a jail or prison sentence. If the defendant violates probation, any jail or prison sentence is limited to the figure the prosecutor and Buffalo, MN felony lawyer worked out in a plea agreement.

Deferred disposition is different on both these points. If the defendant successfully completes deferred probation, the judge dismisses the case. The arrest record remains, but there is no conviction record. So, if a job or college application requires disclosure of any prior criminal convictions, the applicant can write “none.”

Now for the downside. If the defendant violates probation in any way, including trivial violations, and a Buffalo, MN felony lawyer cannot defeat the motion, the judge may sentence the defendant to anything up to the maximum incarceration period under the law.

So, deferred adjudication is a pretty significant risk. But, it’s also a risk worth taking, at least in many cases.

How a Buffalo, MN Felony Lawyer Arranges for Deferred Adjudication

Wright County prosecutors may offer deferred adjudication in nonviolent misdemeanors, but probably not in other cases. However, that does not mean deferred is unavailable.

Many times, Buffalo, MN felony lawyers leverage defenses during the plea bargaining process, such as lack of a search warrant, to obtain better deals, like deferred adjudication. In other cases, the prosecutor may have proof problems. For example, a key witness may be unavailable. A prosecutor might offer deferred adjudication to avoid the risk of a trial.

If all else fails, an open plea may be an option for a Buffalo, MN felony lawyer. Defendants literally throw themselves on the mercy of the court. During open pleas, the judge may hear from character and other witnesses.

How to Find an Experienced Buffalo Felony Lawyer in MN

Are you seeking probation or deferred adjudication instead of jail time? If so, an experienced felony attorney in Buffalo, MN is your best bet. Here’s how to choose the right lawyer for your case.

Expertise in Legal Matters

The top qualities every attorney on your shortlist should have are a law degree, proof of admittance to the bar, and good standing with the state he or she is licensed in.

Not sure if the felony defense attorney you’ve hired has these qualities? Run a state attorney search to find out for sure. Or ask these questions during your initial consultation:

  • Where did you attend law school?
  • When did you receive your state license?
  • How long have you been practicing?

Experience With the Felony You’re Charged With

Never hire someone who doesn’t specialize in felony defense. You want an attorney who’s familiar with criminal matters. Beyond that, make sure you choose an attorney who specializes in the specific crime you were charged with.

For example, don’t choose a felony assault attorney to represent you in a DUI felony case. Here are some more questions to ask about your attorney’s experience:

  • How often have you worked on cases like mine?
  • What kind of outcome can I expect for my case?
  • Do you have any references?

Experience With Local Courts

When you’re beginning your search for a felony lawyer, make sure to look locally. You want an attorney who practices in Minnesota and, further, an attorney who practices in Buffalo.

Why does choosing a local lawyer matter? Local attorneys know the local court system. That means a local lawyer can potentially get you more favorable outcomes, including probation and deferred adjudication.

The best question to ask your lawyer about his or her local experience is: how long have you been practicing law in Buffalo, MN?

References and Reviews

Once you’ve come up with a shortlist of lawyers, it’s always a good idea to ask for references. A good lawyer should always have a list of former client references he or she can give you access to. You can also check out online reviews.

One bad review should never deter you from a lawyer you think is right for your case. However, multiple bad reviews that are relatively recent may be a red flag. Proceed with caution and use the following questions to determine if you should run the other way:

  • What percentage of your cases have been successful?
  • What percentage of your cases have resulted in probation compared to incarceration?
  • What strategies have you used in previous cases that could also work for my case?


Fighting for probation or deferred adjudication can be a lengthy process. That’s why cost, of course, is a factor. Here’s a hint, though: choosing a felony attorney who charges a flat fee can help you save money.

Flat fees offer you the total cost of representation upfront. That way, you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay from the get-go. Here are three questions to ask about fees during the initial consultation:

  • Do you charge a flat fee or by the hour?
  • If you charge by the hour, can you give me an estimated total cost for my case?
  • If you charge a flat fee, will there be any additional costs?

Personal Preference

Finally, personal preference should always be the deciding factor when it comes to felony attorneys. As we’ve mentioned, seeking alternative sentencing can take time. You want an attorney who will remain dedicated throughout that process, explaining processes you don’t understand along the way.

This is why it’s critical to choose an attorney you’re comfortable with. Here are some questions to help you find out if your prospective attorney is right for you:

  • Can I contact you if I have questions about my case?
  • Will you send me updates regarding the status of my case?
  • What do you need from me?

Contact a Dedicated Minnesota Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you want to avoid serving jail time in Minnesota, probation is the best sentencing option for you. Better yet, deferred adjudication can result in the expungement of your conviction altogether. Working with a criminal defense attorney in Minnesota can help you learn which of these options is best for your case.

Are you wondering whether probation or deferred adjudication will work for your criminal case? Most defendants have several sentencing options, even if they plead guilty. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN felony lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.


Original article published on October 7, 2021 and updated on November 16, 2021.

Call For A Free Consultation (877) 344-1555Free Consultation

Buffalo Lawyers

215 East Highway 55, Suite 201
Buffalo, MN 55313

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (612) 800-8057
Fax: 763-682-3330

Office Details
Map and Directions

Brainerd Lawyers

17025 Commercial Park Rd, Suite 2
Brainerd, MN 56401

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (218) 736-9429
Fax: 763-682-3330

Office Details
Map and Directions

Hutchinson Lawyers

114 Main Street North
Hutchinson, MN 55350

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (320) 289-4761
Fax: 763-682-3330

Office Details
Map and Directions

Minnetonka Lawyers

3911 Ridgedale Dr, Suite 404E
Minnetonka, MN 55305

Toll Free: (877) 344-1555
Phone: (952) 260-9640
Fax: 763-682-3330

Office Details
Map and Directions