Even if you don’t have a legal background, you probably know the basics of a legal plea. If the state of Florida charges you with a crime, you can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
However, did you know it’s possible to be found guilty without getting a conviction at all?
That’s right: within the state of Florida, defendants can admit to a crime without the associated penalties of a conviction. This is what we mean when we say “adjudication is withheld” in a court case.
The ability to withhold adjudication doesn’t exist in the federal court system. However, so it might not be familiar to most people. Let’s take a look at the definition of this term and what you can expect if it applies to you.
What Does It Mean to Withhold Adjudication?
First, let’s take a look at the word “adjudication” itself. This term refers to a formal judgment or ruling in court.
As we stated above, a “withhold of adjudication” is a decision the state makes when a person is found guilty at trial. At sentencing, the court will choose whether they want to enter an adjudication of guilt or to “withhold adjudication.”
In other words, the court is withholding a harsher ruling, meaning they have not convicted you of the crime. You are still considered guilty in the eyes of the law, but you will not receive the same penalties that come with a legal adjudication of guilt.
When Does the State of Florida Withhold Adjudication?
According to Florida laws—specifically Statute Section 948.01—a court can withhold adjudication if it seems unlikely that the defendant will commit another crime in the future. In cases like these, the Florida legal system allows the court to keep the defendant from suffering the minimum penalties for their crime.
The court then has leeway to decide on fairer penalties instead. For example, a court might choose to allow a defendant to pay a fine instead of getting placed on probation or going to jail.
Most often, courts will only withhold adjudication for first-time offenders. Defendants who have a criminal history are more likely to receive an adjudication of guilt instead.
Note that certain criminal offenses are ineligible for withheld adjudication. Capital, life, and first-degree felonies, for example, are ineligible even if you have a clean criminal history. The same is true of DUI charges.
What Are the Advantages of a Withheld Adjudication?
As you can likely imagine, there are many benefits to getting a withheld adjudication. In some cases, these benefits can make them an appealing solution to your criminal defense.
First, because it isn’t a conviction, you won’t have to suffer the fallout that a conviction can cause for your record.
Criminal convictions can make it more difficult to find and keep a job or to seek a professional license. Having to check “yes” on job applications that ask about past convictions can make your future interviews uncomfortable or nonexistent. Some convictions will also result in a suspended license, a loss of your right to vote, or a loss of your right to carry firearms.
As mentioned above, the penalties for a withheld adjudication are often reduced. You may have to pay a fine or meet the conditions of your probation, including things like counseling, coursework, drug testing, or community service, but you won’t have a jail sentence.
Last, a withheld adjudication means you can avoid a trial. This can save you valuable time and money, and it can also keep your offense further off public records.
What Are the Limitations of a Withheld Adjudication?
A withheld adjudication is not a perfect outcome. The court has still found you guilty, which means that you’ll still have several penalties when compared to a verdict of innocence. If you’ve received this sentence, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
Though you can petition the court to seal or expunge certain records, you can’t seal your record with all crimes. This includes things like aggravated assault, sexual assault, burglary, and domestic violence, all of which will show up if someone runs a background check on you.
Depending on your crime, the court may still require you to register as a felon or a sex offender in certain cases. This will often depend on the type and severity of your crime.
In addition, while you don’t have to respond “yes” to a criminal conviction question on a job application. You may have to respond “yes” in other situations. If a job application asks about past arrests, or whether you’ve been a defendant in a criminal case. You’ll have to answer truthfully.
Last, other states and even the U.S. federal courts consider a withhold of adjudication to be a conviction. This is worth keeping in mind if you move or travel elsewhere in the country. Because withholds will remain on your record per other U.S. laws. Being in possession of a firearm, for example, may be considered illegal in another state that views your sentencing as a conviction.
Get an Experienced Florida Lawyer on Your Side
If you’re struggling to navigate the Florida court system alone, it’s time to get an expert on your side. The nuances of our state’s legal system can be confusing for anyone without a legal background. This is where our veteran team comes in.
Our criminal defense attorneys can help you decide whether the withholding of adjudication is your best option going forward. With a review of your case, we can let you know whether requesting this option is better than taking a plea deal or going to trial. Contact us today for a free evaluation.
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RHINO Lawyers can help and guide you through a system molded by law enforcement, judges, and lawyers for decades. Having won cases for our clients in similar circumstances, our criminal defense team knows what it takes to fight on your behalf.
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