Can a PBJ be a conviction? In Maryland, there are more dispositions than just “guilty” or “not guilty”. We also have “probation before judgment”, known as “PBJ”. Because it allows a defendant to resolve a case without a trial and without a conviction, many lawyers, particularly those interested in a “quick plea”, consider this disposition to be the grease that oils the wheels of the criminal justice system. The disposition of PBJ is created by a statute found in Section 6-220 of the Criminal Procedure Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland. This statute specifically states that “Discharge of a defendant under this section shall be without judgment of conviction and is not a conviction for the purpose of any disqualification or disability imposed by law because of conviction of a crime.” Lawyers routinely tell their clients who receive a PBJ that they can legally state that they have not been convicted of a crime.
However, in the case of Dr. Michael Rudman, a Frederick physician who was charged with molesting two female patients and received a PBJ pursuant to a plea bargain, his PBJ was considered a conviction for purposes of disqualifying him from participation in a federal health care program. U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis ruled that the federal definition of “conviction” was broad enough to encompass a disposition of “probation before judgment”.
In addition, drivers with a commercial drivers license who receive a PBJ for driving under the influence of alcohol are considered to have a conviction for purposes of sanctions against their license. In fact, two convictions (including PBJs) will result in a lifetime disqualification of a CDL. Also, if a person on probation for an earlier crime receives a PBJ while on probation, that PBJ will be considered a conviction for purposes of a violation of probation charge.
So, while a PBJ is not generally considered to be a conviction, there are times when it will be treated as a conviction and penalties will be assessed just as if a defendant was convicted. This illustrates the need for all lawyers to review their client’s situation beyond just the facts of the charge. Clients, like everyone else, have a life which can sometimes be impacted by a PBJ in much the same manner as if they received a conviction. If this is the case, the lawyer’s trial strategy must take into account that a guilty plea which results in a PBJ is not an option.