Question: What is the law for a prayer for judgment? I believe it states that there can be no criminal action against a person who has used a prayer for judgment within 3 years. Does this apply only to traffic citations or citations in general?
A basic definition of a "Prayer for Judgement" is a plea that can be entered in a courtroom and is neither an admission of guilt nor a plea of innocence. If the plea is accepted by the judge the charge against the accused is dismissed though the judge usually has conditions for the violation to not go on the person's record.
The conditions normally include that if within a certain time period the accused repeats the crime or a similar one he/will face both charges. However if the accused stays clean for the time period the record is expunged and the accused will face no trial or punishment for the alleged offense. In North Carolina, the probationary time period is typically three years.
In North Carolina, for car insurance purposes one can have up to one PJC per household every three years that will not cause insurance premium increases. For driver's license purposes, a driver can have up to two PJCs within a five year period that won't result in driver's license points or have any effect on the driving record of the person receiving the PJC.
For criminal defendants in federal court, a prayer for judgment may be considered a conviction for the determination of the sentencing level upon conviction of a federal crime.
So a PJC is basically like a deferred prosecution. After a plea of guilty, the judge can make a finding of guilt without entering judgment and set a new court date, usually a year later, at which time if the defendant has met the conditions set out by the judge, then the charge can be dismissed.
Chapter 23, Title 17, Code of Laws of South Carolina (Section 17-23-85) states that notwithstanding any other provision of law, a circuit judge, magistrate, or municipal judge has the authority to suspend the imposition of a sentence for a criminal offense for a specified period and with or without conditions attached. The suspension of the imposition of a sentence is known as a 'prayer for judgment continued'.
The prayer for judgment continued upon payment of costs, without more, does not constitute the entry of judgment. If the judge sets no conditions, the consent of the defendants is not required for prayer for judgment continued.
A prayer for judgment continued without any conditions does not constitute a judgment, conviction, or sentence and is not a prior conviction for purposes of sentencing. An unconditional prayer for judgment continued postpones sentencing by the judge, either to a future date specified by the judge, or indefinitely if no date is set.
If the judge sets conditions such as a fine or imprisonment, the order is a final judgment and the court may not impose additional punishment. If the defendant violates the conditions of a prayer for judgment continued at any time after it is imposed, the state may file a motion that the court imposes a sentence. A prayer for judgment is not probation since it does not involve a conviction or a suspended sentence.
Receiving a prayer for judgment continued is completely up to the discretion of the court in either state.
If you have used the prayer for judgment plea for a traffic offense or other type of violation of the law in North Carolina or South Carolina, then you should have been advised of what your conditions are that you must follow. If the conditions include no criminal action but you are unsure if this means in a vehicle, as in a traffic offense, or if it means any type of criminal offense then you should check with the court that allowed the PJC for clarification.