What does a suspended sentence mean?

A suspended sentence occurs when the court has decided to impose a prison sentence, but to suspend that for a fixed period of time, whereby the individual in question is not sent immediately into prison custody. Often when the court imposes a suspended sentence it is to allow the offender to undergo probation and a period of rehabilitation . This is not a reprieve, however; if an offender receives a suspended sentence, it means that they are serving their sentence in the community rather than in prison. 

A suspended prison sentence is often given when the offender has alcohol and/or drug abuse problems, and the probation period allows them to receive treatment for their addiction. A suspended prison sentence is sometimes accompanied by financial penalties including compensation.

Suspended sentences offer an alternative to short to medium term custodial sentences and are more economical than imprisoning people for relatively minor offences, relieving pressure on the prison system. Provided the Court is satisfied that a custodial sentence of less than two years would be adequate to punish the offending behaviour the Court can consider suspending the prison sentence.  

When can a suspended sentence be applied?

A suspended sentence can be given in response to a very wide range of offences, such as:

  1. Burglary
  2. Criminal damage
  3. Drug offences
  4. Fraud and forgery
  5. Motoring offences
  6. Robbery
  7. Sexual offences
  8. Handling stolen goods
  9. Some involving Violence against the person

What factors mean a suspended setence may be considered?

When considering a suspended sentence, and applying the sentencing guidelines, the judge or magistrates will take into consideration a number following factors, including that:

  1. The offender must be punished for their crime
  2. The public must be protected
  3. The offender’s behaviour must be changed
  4. The offender must help to make amends for their crime
  5. The chance of future crimes must be minimised

A suspended sentence can only be legally applied if:

  1. The term of imprisonment is between 14 days and two years (or six months, if the case is being tried in the Magistrates’ Court)
  2. The offender is compliant with court requirements

In recent years there have been slightly fewer suspended sentences in the UK than immediate custodial sentences – 5% in comparison to 7%.

What constitutes a breach of a suspended sentence order?

Similar to a community order, a suspended prison sentence will often have specific conditions which the offender must abide by and will typically involve them needing to engage with the probation service. However, implicit in every suspended sentence there is the condition that no further offences are committed in the period of when the sentence is suspended.  The specific conditions of a suspended prison sentence vary widely depending on the offence, and will often be similar to those that would be imposed as part of a those of a community based sentence. 

There are 12 possible requirements that offenders with a suspended prison sentence could fulfil. 

  1. Unpaid work requirement
  2. Activity requirement
  3. Programme requirement
  4. Prohibited activity requirement
  5. Curfew requirement
  6. Exclusion requirement
  7. Residence requirement
  8. Mental health requirement
  9. Drug rehabilitation requirement
  10. Alcohol treatment requirement
  11. Supervision requirement
  12. Attendance centre requirement (in cases where the offender is aged 25 or under)

What happens if I breach my suspended sentence order?

If an offender chooses to break the conditions of their suspended sentence, or commits another crime during its duration, they risk incurring the default  custodial term, meaning that they are sent immediately into prison for a period no longer that originally imposed. There is a presumption that this will be the case, making it an extremely likely result of a requirement breach. The length of the activated prison sentence can be reduced to reflect how much the offender complied with the Order and how many of the conditions were completed/ or breached.

However, this is not the only consequence of a suspended sentence breach. The court may decide to take an alternative decision that focuses instead on modifying the terms of the suspended sentence. If the court chooses this, it will involve one of the following options:

  1. Increase the severity and/or duration of the community requirements
  2. Extend the period of supervision during community service
  3. Extend the duration of the suspended sentence

To find out more about suspended prison sentences in the UK, get in touch and our team of experienced professional solicitors will provide you with guidance.