Withhold Adjudication in Florida

If you are facing criminal charges in Florida, you must understand the potential consequences of a conviction. A criminal conviction can lead to incarceration, fines and fees, and probation.  If it is a conviction for a felony offense, it can even lead to a loss of some of your rights. Any conviction can have far-reaching implications for your personal and professional life. On this page, you will learn more about the concept of “withhold adjudication” and how it can affect your criminal case.

What is Adjudication?

Adjudication refers to the court’s decision on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. If you are adjudicated guilty, the court enters a formal conviction against you; this is commonly called an “adjudication.” Under Florida law, adjudication is a synonym for conviction. If your criminal charge is a felony offense, you would be considered a convicted felon under Florida law. 

What Does Withhold Adjudication Mean?

In Florida, when a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty to a criminal offense, Florida Statute 948.01  permits the court to  “withhold adjudication” of guilt. This is sometimes called “adjudication withheld” or “withholding adjudication.” This means the court does not enter a conviction against the defendant, even though they may have entered a guilty plea to the charge. To give you a withhold, the judge must believe that you are unlikely to commit another crime and that it is justified by the “ends of justice” and the “welfare of society.” 

A defendant’s factual guilt is irrelevant to a court’s decision on whether there should be a withhold of adjudication. Rather than entering a conviction, a court may impose various penalties or conditions, such as probation, community service, or restitution. If the defendant successfully complies with these penalties or conditions, the court officially closes the case without a conviction. This means that the defendant may avoid some of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, such as being barred from certain employment opportunities or losing their right to vote or own firearms if it is a felony conviction. 

A withhold of adjudication is not available in the federal court system as it is a state law concept. The federal court system has its own rules and procedures, and the concept does not exist. In federal court, if a defendant is found guilty, the court may impose various penalties or conditions, such as imprisonment, fines, probation, and community service. Once the court enters a conviction, it will remain on the defendant’s criminal record, which can have long-lasting consequences for the defendant’s personal and professional life.

What is the Purpose of Withholding Adjudication?

A withheld adjudication is intended to allow a defendant to avoid the harsh consequences of a criminal conviction, such as incarceration, fines, and prison time. Instead of entering a conviction, the court may impose penalties or conditions, such as probation or community service, that the defendant must complete. If the defendant successfully completes these penalties or conditions, the defendant avoids a conviction and the negative impacts of having a criminal history. Additionally, not convicting someone can benefit society by allowing the court to focus on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates.

On the other hand, a withhold of adjudication can be converted to an adjudication if a defendant violates their probation. Suppose a defendant who has been granted a withhold of adjudication fails to comply with the terms of their probation. In that case, the court may revoke their probation and enter an adjudication (conviction). In other words, the defendant may be subjected to all the penalties associated with the crime they were charged with, including incarceration, fines, and a permanent mark on their record. If a defendant is granted a withhold of adjudication, they must comply with the terms of their probation to avoid the possibility of a probation violation, which could result in their withhold becoming an adjudication.

When is Adjudication Withheld?

Adjudication is withheld depending on the case’s specific circumstances and the court’s discretion. Some common situations where adjudicating may be withheld include first-time offenders, minor offenses, plea bargains, and youthful offenders. Significantly, not all cases are eligible for withholding adjudication, and the court may use its discretion in deciding whether the disposition should be adjudication withheld or enter a conviction.

Why Does Withholding an Adjudication Matter for Employment?

By withholding adjudication, the defendant may be able to avoid having a formal conviction on their record, which can make it easier to find employment. Some employers, however, may still ask about the case or consider it in their hiring decisions.

Sealing Your Case with a Withhold Adjudication

If your case disposition is adjudication withheld in your criminal case, you may be eligible to have your case sealed or expunged from your record. This means that the public will not be able to access the case, including your arrest and court records. Sealing or expunging your case can be especially important regarding employment or other opportunities, as it can allow you to effectively “erase” your criminal record.

Florida Statute 775.08435

Florida Statute 775.08435 is an important law that limits the number of times a defendant can receive withhold adjudication for certain felony offenses. Essentially, withhold adjudication means that the court does not enter a conviction against the defendant, even though they may have admitted to committing the offense.

This statute prohibits the court from withholding adjudication of guilt in certain felony cases. For instance, withholding adjudication is prohibited for any capital, life, or first-degree felony offense. Similarly, suppose the defendant has a prior withholding of adjudication for a felony that did not arise from the same transaction as the current felony offense. In that case, the court may not withhold adjudication for a second or third-degree felony offense.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the state attorney requests in writing that adjudication is withheld or the court makes written findings that the withholding of adjudication is reasonably justified based on certain circumstances or factors, the court may still withhold adjudication.

It is important to note that this section does not apply to any adjudication or withholding of adjudication under chapter 985.

Are There Any Drawbacks to a Withhold of Adjudication? 

If you are considering accepting a withhold of adjudication, it is important to understand that it may still have negative consequences. Even though a withhold of adjudication means that you are not formally convicted of the offense, it does not erase the fact that you were charged with a crime. This can still have implications for future job opportunities, housing, and other areas of life. While a withhold of adjudication may not appear as a conviction on a background check, it may still appear as an arrest or pending charge, which can raise questions or concerns for potential employers or landlords. Some professional licenses require a background check, and a withhold of adjudication may impact your ability to obtain or renew a professional license. Additionally, a withhold of adjudication may still be considered a criminal offense for immigration purposes and can impact your ability to obtain or maintain immigration status. Lastly, a withhold of adjudication may limit your ability to receive a withhold of adjudication for future criminal charges, depending on the case’s specific circumstances and the court’s discretion. Consequently, if you are considering a withhold of adjudication, it is important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand your legal options and potential consequences and to navigate the legal process effectively.

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A withheld adjudication can have significant implications for your future, including employment implications and the possibility of sealing your case. It is important to understand the potential consequences of a conviction, especially if it is for a felony offense.  It is also important to understand the benefits of receiving a withhold of adjudication, as well as the potential limitations on your ability to receive a withhold adjudication under Florida law. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you understand your legal options and guide you through the legal process.

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