Probation and “No Contest” Pleas in Texas
There are two types of probation that might be available to a person who has committed a crime in Texas. They are “straight” probation and deferred-adjudication probation.
Straight Probation & Deferred Adjudication Probation
If you receive straight probation, a limit is set on your sentence before you receive probation, so that a violation of probation can result, at most, in that limit. If you receive deferred adjudication and violate your probation, you might be sentenced to the maximum punishment for the offense.
For example, a typical straight probation sentence is “five years, probated for five.” If you violate probation, you can go to prison for up to five years. On the other hand, if you are on deferred for five years for a second-degree felony (a 2–20 year offense) and you violate your probation, you can go to prison for 20 years.
If you receive straight probation, you are convicted of the crime with which you are charged. If you receive deferred adjudication probation, you are not convicted (technically, for purposes of Texas criminal law, though employers and landlords and others who do background checks may treat it as a conviction) unless you violate your probation.
The judge cannot give straight probation for so-called 3g (aggravated) offenses (but the jury can, if the sentence is 10 years or less).
A deferred-adjudication probation can, in certain circumstances, be sealed from public view with a petition for nondisclosure; a straight probation is a matter of public record forever. Landlords and employers generally treat a deferred adjudication the same as a conviction. That means that people are often unable to rent apartments or get jobs because of deferred adjudication on their records.
In addition, for purposes of federal sentencing, a deferred adjudication is the same as a conviction. So punishment for a subsequent federal crime can be enhanced by virtue of the deferred. A person who is not a citizen can be deported for taking a deferred.
Even state law treats a deferred as a conviction for purposes of determining who is eligible to receive or renew some types of licenses. A person who received a deferred may find himself in a nasty spot when he goes to renew a license issued by the state.
In other words, deferred-adjudication probation is not a silver bullet. It will not stay off your record, and it is in many ways as bad as a conviction (and in some ways worse).
Some defendants prefer to plead “no contest” instead of guilty. Legally there is little difference between the two pleas. You can be convicted on either; your criminal record will appear the same either way. The only difference is that a “no contest” plea cannot be used against you in a civil suit involving the same conduct. For example, if you have an accident, are prosecuted for intoxicated assault and plead “no contest,” when victims of the accident sue you in civil court they can’t use your plea to prove that you were DWI. If you plead “guilty,” they can.