In Florida, What Does a Withhold of Adjudication or Adjudication Withheld Mean?

On television, criminal cases almost always end in either a conviction or a dramatic finding of not guilty. Occasionally, charges are dismissed. But, in the Florida criminal justice system, the process is far more nuanced. That complexity can actually be good news for people who have been charged with crimes in Jacksonville or anywhere within the state of Florida. In fact, due to the existence of a legal concept known as either a withhold of adjudication or adjudication withheld, in Florida, it is possible to enter a plea or in some cases even lose at trial without being formally convicted of a charge. This, especially when the crimes are relatively minor and the accused has little or no criminal history.

However, an accused is not always eligible to receive a withhold of adjudication or an adjudication withheld in all cases. Some prohibiting factors may include the offense for which the individual is charged with and whether the accused has received prior withholds of adjudication. 

Thus we at the Lufrano Legal, P.A. hope that the following information will be informative and assist in clearing up some of the confusion that often accompanies the terms adjudication withheld or withhold of adjudication. For starters, it’s worth noting that here in Florida the terms withhold of adjudication and adjudication withheld mean the exact same thing and are completely interchangeable.

What is a Withhold of Adjudication or Adjudication Withheld? 

In Florida, if an individual enters a plea to a criminal offense or is found guilty after a trial the Judge has to impose some form of sentence. As part of that sentence the Court must decide whether or not this individual should be convicted (also known as being adjudicated guilty) of this particular offense. However, in some cases, the Court can impose a sentence that does not convict the accused of this offense by imposing a withhold of adjudication and adjudication withheld. Said more simply a withhold of adjudication and adjudication withheld is not a conviction.   

How Does a Withhold of Adjudication or Adjudication Withheld Work in Florida? 

The standard sequence in a Florida criminal proceeding involves a trial or plea agreement. If the defendant is found guilty, the court proceeds to sentencing, which may include probation. 

However, Florida law allows for a different type of agreement. The defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest to the charges, and then the court skips straight to placing him or her on probation without entering a judgment of conviction. The accused is ordered to abide by the terms of probation for a specified period. Depending on the charges, the defendant’s history, and other factors, there are a variety of special conditions that could be imposed if an individual receives a probationary sentence. Some potential probationary terms could include: 

  • Reporting to a probation officer as required
  • Maintaining suitable employment
  • Keeping the probation office updated with current address and employment information
  • Agreeing to allow probation officers to enter the probationer’s residence
  • Support legal dependents
  • Refrain from any further criminal activity
  • Avoid contact with people engaged in criminal activity
  • Paying restitution to victims
  • Performing community service
  • Attending substance abuse counseling, anger management, or other treatment programs
  • Submitting to random drug and alcohol testing

Now if a judge is imposing a probationary sentence after a trial or following a sentencing hearing, then the court has broad authority to enter probationary sanctions or limitations as it deems appropriate to the situation. However if an accused reaches a plea deal or negotiated agreement with the prosecution and this agreement includes a withhold of adjudication and a term of probation, then the court will only impose the probationary conditions agreed upon by the parties.

Successful Completion of Probation

Under Florida law, a criminal defendant who is placed on probation with a withhold of adjudication or adjudication withheld and successfully completes that probation cannot be further sentenced for the crime. In other words, successful completion of probation puts an end to the case. 

It’s important to note, though, that withheld adjudication is not a diversion. Successful completion of a diversion program can result in charges being dismissed, but that’s not the case with a withheld adjudication. No judgment of conviction is entered, but the case is not dismissed and the withheld adjudication remains part of the defendant’s criminal record. 

Probation Violations 

Maintaining a withheld adjudication or withhold of adjudication depends on the successful completion of probation. And, a defendant who violates the terms of the imposed probation may not only lose the withhold of adjudication, but they may also be at risk of even greater penalties than were imposed under the initial probationary sentence. 

It is also worth noting that while there are significant positive aspects to receiving a withhold of adjudication or to having adjudication withheld, should a person be accused of violating the probation that accompanies the withhold, defending against the violation may be even more difficult than prevailing at a trial for the initial underlying charge. The reason being that the standard of proof required to prove a violation of probation is a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.   

Further, while the court may explain these terms when the plea is entered, many people charged with Florida crimes don’t fully understand the risks associated with entering a plea in exchange for a withhold of adjudication. While this is often a good resolution, it’s very important to understand the full ramifications before entering any plea, and to have an experienced criminal defense attorney assess your case for weaknesses before weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a withheld judgment.

Who Qualifies for Withheld Adjudication? 

The system of withholding adjudication was intended to offer a second chance to people without criminal histories if the court determined that they were unlikely to continue engaging in criminal activity. Since a criminal conviction can create limitations that make it more difficult for someone to participate in society, courts sometimes find it useful to be able to help a criminal defendant avoid getting caught in that trap. 

However, having a previously clean criminal record isn’t a statutory requirement. While it’s much less likely that someone who already has a criminal conviction will be offered to withhold of adjudication, it is sometimes an option. 

The other factor in determining eligibility for withheld adjudication is the nature of the charge. Certain types of crimes are never eligible under Florida law. Most of these are serious felonies. Capital, life, felonies never qualify. Further, an individual charged with a first-degree felony punishable by life or ordinary first-degree felony offenses can only receive a withhold of adjudication if they are sentenced as a youthful offender. Finally, Defendant’s facing second-degree felonies or third-degree felonies may qualify, but only if either: 

  • The prosecutor requests in writing that adjudication be withheld, or
  • The court enters written findings of mitigating circumstances justifying the withheld adjudication pursuant to Florida Statute 921.0026.

Certain other specific crimes may be excluded, or the impact of a withheld adjudication may be limited based on a defendant’s prior criminal history. That said, an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney can tell you whether or not a withhold of adjudication is possible based on the charges, and can explain the factors that will determine how likely a court is to withhold adjudication in your circumstances. 

How Long Does Adjudication Withheld Stay on Your Record? 

Withheld adjudications have different impacts in different circumstances, so it’s important to understand how they appear on your criminal record, how long they’ll appear there, and what effect they will have in different circumstances. 

Just like a conviction, here in Florida, a withhold of adjudication will remain on an individual’s criminal record forever unless the withhold is sealed by court order. That means that unless, after the conclusion of your case, you get the record sealed, this withholding of adjudication will appear on your criminal history for the rest of your life. But, that’s just the first step in determining the impact adjudication withheld may have. Here are answers to some other commonly asked questions about what it means to have adjudication withheld on your record. 

Does Adjudication Withheld Count as a Conviction? 

The simple answer is no, if someone received a withhold of adjudication they have not been convicted of the offense. As such, someone who receives a withhold of adjudication for a felony does not lose their right to vote or to possess a firearm. However, there are questions that may be posed later on in life, like on job applications or contracts, to someone who ultimately receives a withhold of adjudication which can be confusing or tricky. Likewise making sure you answer these questions correctly can be tough. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced and knowledgeable criminal law attorney in your corner. Additionally, even though a withhold isn’t a conviction having one might still carry some negative repercussions for federal employment or military service. 

Will Adjudication Withheld Show Up on a Background Check? 

Yes, unless the record has been sealed adjudication withheld is part of your criminal history and will show up in a background check. If you’re applying for a job or filling out a rental application that requires a background check, be prepared for questions about your charge, or pre-empt them by explaining in advance. 

Do I Have to List Adjudication Withheld on a Job Application? 

The answer to this question depends on the wording of the application. For example, some job applications–and other applications, such as for apartment rentals or volunteer opportunities–will ask whether you’ve been convicted of a crime or convicted of a felony. Adjudication withheld isn’t a conviction, so you can honestly answer “no” to that question. But, be aware that a background check will turn up the charge anyway. And, read the question carefully. Some other applications use different phrasing, such as “Have you ever entered a guilty plea or pled no contest to a criminal charge?” The answer to that will be “yes,” since you must enter a plea as part of the withheld adjudication process. 

How Does Adjudication Withheld Affect Gun Rights? 

Adjudication withheld does not by itself disqualify a person from owning a firearm in Florida. However, in certain types of cases, the judge may prohibit ownership or possession of firearms during the term of probation. Failure to comply with this restriction could lead to a probation violation that might trigger entry of a judgment of conviction and sentencing for the crime. 

Do you have more questions about gun crime defense in Florida?

Is Adjudication Withheld a Good Deal? 

Like most answers to tough legal questions, the answer is it depends. A withhold of adjudication can be a way for someone charged with a crime in Florida to avoid a criminal conviction and many of the restrictions that come with it. In fact, if after receiving a withhold an individual may in some instances be eligible to seal their record. And, of course, a defendant who is placed on probation is often placed on this type of supervision in lieu of a jail or prison term which is also beneficial. That said there can still be downsides to a disposition that results in a withhold of adjudication.

Thus it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits. Violating probation can have serious consequences. And, most people don’t have the knowledge and experience to accurately assess the strength of the case against them, or whether there may be effective defenses available. 

A conversation with an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney is the best way to protect yourself from serious mistakes in a criminal proceeding. Attorney Matthew Lufrano has the experience you need and offers free consultations to help people who have been charged with crimes gather reliable information. You can schedule yours right now by calling 904-513-3905. Or, if you prefer, fill out the contact form on this site and we’ll reach out to you.