The Difference between a Formal Deferred Prosecution and a Conditional Discharge

Persons charged with Class H or I felonies or any misdemeanor except Driving under the Influence can earn a dismissal of the charges by participating in a Deferred Prosecution or a Conditional Discharge. This blog focuses on a comparison of these alternatives to prosecution.
Both the deferral and the conditional discharge have the same pre-requisites:
(1) The victim has been notified and given an opportunity to be heard,
(2) Defendant has no moral turpitude prior convictions,
(3) Defendant has never been placed on probation and
(4) The defendant is unlikely to commit another offense, other than a Class 3 misdemeanor, in the future. (NCGS§ 15A-1341(a1), (a4)).

In a Formal Deferral, the prosecutor enters into a written agreement with the defendant prior to trial. The agreement lists the terms by which the defendant can obtain a dismissal. The defendant may or may not admit responsibility or guilt to the charge but in either case, the admission does not constitute a plea of guilty. If the defendant fails to abide by the terms of the deferral, he is still free to proceed to trial. (State v. Ross (2005) 173 N.C. App. 569, 620 S.E.2d 33.)1

But if the defendant goes to trial and gets convicted, or if the prosecutor requires a guilty plea as a pre-requisite to participation, a Conditional Discharge is the procedural mechanism to earn a dismissal.
If a defendant fails to abide by the terms of the Conditional Discharge, judgment is entered on the conviction. But if the defendant successfully fulfills the terms of the Conditional Discharge, any plea or finding of guilty previously entered is withdrawn and the court must discharge the person and dismiss the proceedings.

1) A defendant does not plead guilty simply by admitting his guilt in fact to an offense. A guilty plea is a formal process that requires the formal acceptance of the plea by the court and a judicial determination that there was a factual basis for the plea.


The Prayer for Judgment Continued (PJC) is a strange sentencing concept. It is an acceptance of responsibility but not a conviction. It is a resolution of a criminal or traffic charge but not a dismissal. It isn’t appealable and uncertainty exists as to whether PJC charges can be expunged.
The PJC is a sentencing option. If a person admits responsibility for a crime or gets convicted by plea or trial, a judge has three options for sentencing:
1) Impose an immediate sentence such as a fine and or incarceration,
2) impose a sentence but suspend it or
3) impose a Prayer for Judgment Continued. Whether the PJC acts as a final resolution depends on the words and intent of the judge.
a) A PJC may signify the final resolution where the court intends that judgment will be continued indefinitely and no additional proceedings will occur. An example is when upon a conviction of multiple charges, a sentence is imposed on some charges and a PJC is imposed on others. Here, no further proceedings are contemplated.
The PJC is viewed as a way for a judge to exercise discretion and reduce the impact of a criminal proceeding. By withholding judgment in an appropriate case, a judge can minimize the effects and consequences of the crime or offense.
In traffic cases, the PJC resolution saves the defendant from incurring license and insurance points. A PJC may be used once every three years per insurance policy, not per driver.
and twice every 5 years for DMV purposes.
b) A PJC may be continued for a specified period of time and if during that period of time, the defendant fails to comply with the conditions of the PJC, the prosecutor will “pray for judgment” and ask the judge to impose judgment. Until the expiration of the duration of the specified period of time, the PJC can still revert to a conviction.
c) A PJC may act as a placeholder when the sentencing must be delayed such as when defendant is tried in absentia or when the judge needs additional information before imposing sentence.

The next blog post is part 2 of this series: Can a PJC be expunged?