A suspended sentence is a sentence rendered by a judge which will not enforced if the defendant meets certain conditions, such as, among others, performing community service, paying restitution to the victim, completing a drug or alcohol abuse treatment program, or staying out of trouble. If the defendant fails to meet the conditions, the sentence will be enforced. State laws on suspended sentencing vary, but a suspended sentence may count as a conviction for enhancing penalties of future offenses.
The following is an example of one state's law governing suspended sentences:
"Circuit courts and district courts, subject to the provisions and conditions hereinafter provided, may suspend execution of sentence and place on probation any person convicted of a crime in any court exercising criminal jurisdiction. The court shall have no power to suspend the execution of sentence imposed upon any person who has been found guilty and whose punishment is fixed at death or imprisonment in the penitentiary for more than 15 years. Except as provided in the preceding sentence, the court, after a plea of guilty, after the returning of a verdict of guilty by the jury or after the entry of a judgment of guilty by the court, may suspend execution of sentence and place the defendant on probation, or may impose a fine within the limits fixed by law and also place the defendant on probation."
There can be Suspended Execution of Sentence (SES) and Suspended Imposition of Sentence (SIS). In SES, the defendant is placed on probation with an incarceration amount preset in case of revocation. The Judge can execute that sentence if the probation is revoked. An S.E.S. is a conviction for all purposes. The record is an open record and will remain so even after the probation is completed or the sentence served.
In SIS, usually the defendant is placed on probation. If the defendant violates probation and faces revocation, the Judge may order any sentence within the full range of punishment for the crime convicted. If the defendant successfully completes probation, no sentence is actually ordered. Therefore normally an SIS is not considered a ‘conviction’ for anything other than law enforcement purposes.