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When facing criminal charges, it is important to know the difference between a withhold of adjudication and an adjudication.
“Adjudication” simply is a fancy word for “conviction.” If adjudication is withheld, then you are not convicted in the legal sense, but rather have had the judge decline, or withhold from, entering that conviction. If you are adjudicated guilty, then the court has entered that conviction upon your record.
Whenever you either plead guilty, or no contest to a charge, or are found guilty after a bench or jury trial, the judge has the option of either adjudicating you as guilty or withholding adjudication.
It sounds simple, but the Florida Legislature has designated some crimes as having mandatory convictions.
Withholds are often granted to first-time offenders as an incentive for the defendant to plead to the crime and yet allow the defendant to have a “second chance” at avoiding a criminal conviction on their record. The option to withhold adjudication is granted in cases where probation is sentenced under Florida Statutes Section 948.01, but for first-time offenders, and sometimes for second offenses as well, the judge can withhold even without probation being a part of the sentence. However, there are exceptions.
Not all cases qualify for a withhold of adjudication. Examples of such crimes include any first-degree felony offenses. For second-degree felony offenses, the general rule is the court may not withhold adjudication but can withhold if the state attorney requests a withhold in writing, or if the court makes a written finding the withholding of adjudication is justified based on the criteria set forth in Florida Statutes Section 921.0026. There’s also a limitation on the number of withholds a person can receive. Adjudication cannot be withheld on a second-degree felony if the defendant has a prior withhold on a felony. The same rules apply to third-degree felony charges, but the limitation applies to those who have two or more prior withholdings on a felony.
If a court does withhold adjudication, it must place the defendant on probation if the case is a felony, but probation is not required for misdemeanor withholds.
Previously, a withhold of adjudication meant defendants escaped most secondary consequences of a conviction, such as mandatory driver’s license revocation, points on the defendant’s driver's license, or forfeiture of civil rights, such as the right to vote, hold public office, and serve on a jury. Receiving a withhold also allowed defendants to deny having a conviction on job applications when asking whether they had ever been convicted of a criminal offense. Having a withhold is also essential in asking a court to seal a criminal record. But these benefits are limited. Many crimes are no longer eligible for a withhold by statute and many exceptions exist for the purposes of sealing a record. Most of the limited crimes involve sex crimes, robberies and burglaries, violent crimes, fraud, and DUI. Additionally, many employers, including the U.S. government, may now consider a withhold to be the same as a full adjudication.
You also need to be aware that later prosecution and convictions, particularly in federal court, can rely in many cases upon prior “convictions” where adjudication was withheld in order to enhance a sentence. This is accomplished through “habitual offender” or “career criminal” laws.
All things being equal, it is better to ask for and receive a withhold of adjudication. However, it may still cause issues in many cases. The best solution is to try and avoid prosecution in the first place. This means being proactive and having your attorney seek non-criminal sanctions as early as possible. This is especially relevant for young people who may obtain a withhold under Youthful Offender provisions. The legal process moves quickly so it is vital to get the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney immediately upon an arrest. The attorneys at Canan Law are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to handle your legal concerns.
Call us at (904) 849-2266 or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about criminal and drug cases.
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