If a crime is so serious that it crosses the “custody threshold,” i.e. it is so serious that it justifies a prison sentence, the Court will consider whether it may be appropriate to impose a suspended sentence instead.
A suspended sentence is technically a prison sentence, but the defendant is not sent to prison immediately. Instead, they are given an opportunity to engage in either punishment or rehabilitative work under the direction of the Probation Service.
Contrary to the opinion of some tabloid newspapers, this does not mean that a defendant has “walked free” or “got away with” anything at all. In fact, there are situations where having to comply with a curfew and unpaid work, or engaging fully with drug rehabilitation appointments with Probation is more onerous than being in prison.
The Suspended Sentence Order means that the custodial sentence is hanging over the defendant throughout the life of the Order. If the defendant breaches the terms of the Order, such as not going to an appointment, the Court will consider “activating” the custodial sentence, i.e. sending them to prison for the original term of the suspended sentence.
In the same way, if someone is already subject to a Suspended Sentence Order, and they commit a new offence, the Court will consider activating the suspended sentence, and imposing a separate sentence for the new offence.
In other words, a suspended sentence can be seen as a final warning that if a defendant doesn’t work hard to solve their problems or stay out of trouble, they will simply be sent to prison.
There are limits on how long a Court can suspend a prison sentence for: the Magistrates Court can only suspend a maximum of 6 months custody for a period of up to 2 years, while the Crown Court can suspend up to 2 years custody for 2 years.
If you are concerned about the possibility of a suspended sentence, or any other sentence in criminal proceedings, contact us to see if we can provide information that is relevant to your case. We can also recommend specialist criminal defence barristers or solicitors who may be able to represent you.