Having Adjudication Withheld - Aaron Delgado & Associates

Everything You Wanted to Know About Having an Adjudication Withheld

by Aaron Delgado
01/13/20 (Updated: 09/14/21)

Unlike a tax withholding, a criminal case is something a person wants the government to withhold. The term “withhold of adjudication” refers to the Court’s final ruling or adjudication in a criminal case. In any court proceeding—civil or criminal—a Court will issue rulings or orders that can end the case or determine legal issues. In a criminal case, unless the State drops the case on its own, the Court’s involvement is required to formally dispose of the case.

Table of contents

What the $@#% does adjudication withheld mean and why do I want it?

An adjudication of guilt means that person is convicted of the offense for which they were arrested and subsequently prosecuted. But a withhold of adjudication does not mean that the charge is dropped, taken off your record, or has no consequences.

Rather, a withhold of adjudication is an exercise of judicial discretion which results in a criminal defendant still receiving the punishment of the crime, but the Court withholds the finding of guilt and, thereby, the residual effects of an actual conviction. Much like the tax withholding that you see on your pay stub, the withholding of adjudication or adjudication of guilt after a criminal prosecution can affect your bank account as well as nearly every other aspect of your life.

When does the Court make the decision to withhold?

Unless the State decides to unilaterally drop a criminal prosecution, every case will require a final ruling—Judgment and Sentence. This is the official Court document that sets forth the nature of the charge (Judgment) and the consequences of the charge (Sentence). Since most cases resolve by virtue of plea bargaining or negotiating with the prosecutor, the State and Defendant’s proposal to resolve the case will usually be accepted by the Court.

The Court has the ultimate say, but if the resolution is in line with the law, appropriate considering the facts, and in line with the wishes of any victim, the Court will essentially rubber stamp the deal that has been struck. While the stamp is now electronic as opposed to rubber, when the case comes before the Court to be resolved, the Court will either approve of the agreement to withhold adjudication or take the matter up for argument if there is no agreement between the State and Defendant.

When can the Court withhold adjudication?

Answering this question is easier if we start with discussing when the court cannot withhold adjudication. The court cannot withhold adjudication in these circumstances:

  • Any capital, life, or first degree felony offense (e.g. murder and many firearm discharge cases)
  • Any second degree felony offense (e.g. most drug sale cases and burglary of a dwelling), unless the prosecutor requests that adjudication be withheld, or if the Court makes written findings that a withhold is reasonably justified. However, adjudication cannot be withheld for a second degree felony if the defendant has a withhold for a prior felony.
  • A third degree felony (e.g. simple drug possession, car burglaries, and most grand thefts) when the defendant has a withhold for a prior felony, unless the prosecutor requests that adjudication be withheld or the Court makes findings that a withhold is reasonably justified. However, a defendant cannot receive a withhold for a third degree felony if he or she has two or more prior felony withholds.
  • Any conviction for DUI, manslaughter resulting from the operation of a vehicle, or vehicular homicide

So, unless you are facing the most serious of felonies, there is always an outlet for the defendant to appeal to the discretion of the Court. Practically, discretion will be exercised in a defendant’s favor if they are not before the Court while previously convicted or in most non-violent cases.

How will a conviction affect my current employment or future employment prospects?

Most private employers have internal policies regarding the extent of a background check conducted on prospective employees. The federal employment system actually provides a good example of expectations for the private sector. All federal employees are subject to a background check. However, the extent of such check will depend on the position; a prospective FBI agent will face more scrutiny than a federal courthouse janitor.

criminal background check

Some federal employers may allow convicts while others may not. A person who is not a convicted felon, but who received the benefit of a withhold of adjudication does not need to answer “yes” to an employment questionnaire inquiry which reads “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” However, some employers may ask “Have you ever been arrested for a felony?” A person receiving a withhold after an arrest for a felony offense would have to answer “yes”. In short, being a convicted felon significantly limits your job options because most federal, local government, and private employers have internal prohibitions against the hiring of or strict policies regarding the hiring of those convicted of a felony.

Professional Licenses

Those who are facing felony prosecution and who hold professional licenses, such as real estate or law licenses, may need to report the case to the profession’s regulating board. Most of these administrative bodies, like the Department of Professional Responsibility or the Florida Bar, do not state an outright prohibition against being convicted of a crime.

However, broad standards to deny licensure such as “good moral character” or “behavior degrading to the profession” give administrative regulators all the ammo they need to deny felons the ability to hold certain professional licenses. Similarly, the U.S. Military prohibits convicts from enlisting except under “meritorious circumstances.” So, you may be able to convince the military to accept you if you are convicted, but it will be about as easy as getting congress to agree on anything!

How will a conviction affect my ability to pursue higher education?

For juveniles, a conviction for a crime that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult means that the school board will be notified and the child can be expelled. The same holds true for state university students. Also, those receiving federal loan proceeds will be prevented from doing so if they are convicted for a substance abuse related offense during the time in which the student received financial aide.

Stay in school kids. If you get caught with drugs, call Aaron Delgado & Associates at 386-222-6677!

Are there other collateral consequences to a conviction?

While this is not an exhaustive list of all the collateral consequences of conviction, it gives a few examples of how the tentacles of a conviction creep into every aspect of a person’s life.

Felons & Firearms

Check your firearms at the door and don’t expect them back. Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a second degree felony punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.

Have a bullet in your Florida DOC scrubs? Same crime, same time.

Yes–You can technically get sentenced to fifteen years in prison for possessing one bullet if you are a felon. There is a process to restore the civil right of gun ownership after a felony conviction. However, it is long, political, and if you know of anyone who as actually been successful, please have them call my office and tell me how they did it!

Say Goodbye to Your Driver’s License

You can also expect to leave your driver’s license at the county jail and not get it back for the rest of your life depending on the nature of your conviction.

Any sentence as to the charge of DUI requires a conviction, meaning there is no court discretion. You plead no contest, the court MUST adjudicate you guilty. Depending on the severity or number of prior DUI’s, the conviction will result in the suspension or revocation of your license for at least six months and perhaps the rest of your life.

Forgot a small quantity of drugs in your pocket and decide to flee and elude a law enforcement officer? There goes your license for up to five years.

Get pulled over and then are arrested and convicted for unlawfully possessing any controlled substance (including marijuana, you will lose your license for at least six months and can’t get it back until you complete drug treatment.

Can I get a withhold off my record?

If you receive the benefit of a withhold of adjudication, you cannot eliminate the charge from your record completely. However, you can make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the public to gain access to the record. This process is known as sealing a record. Adults are limited to one sealing of one case per lifetime, so long as the person have never been convicted of any crime as an adult and the charge is not a sex offense or violent forcible felony.

Most non-sexual juvenile offenses are sealed automatically when a person reaches the age of 18. For adults, there can be some strategy in choosing between multiple withholds on your record. For instance, a withhold at age 19 for underage consumption of alcohol should not be sealed if that person has another, more serious charge for which a withhold was allowed.

While a withhold is a dramatically more desirable than a conviction, there are certainly some drawbacks such as potential disclosure to employers and the existence of a record, even if sealed from public disclosure. However, a person who is arrested and not formally charged (charges were dropped) or who receive a dismissal of charges due to successfully participating in a diversion program is entitled to delete or destroy the record of arrest and prosecution entirely. This process is known as expungement. Obviously, this is the best outcome after an arrest and only available if you have no prior convictions.

Get the Best Results for Your Case with a Criminal Defense Attorney

As with most of the criminal law landscape, navigating the path which avoids a conviction is a complicated minefield. A skilled criminal defense attorney will understand the dynamic of the judge, the prosecutor, and the strategy in negotiating the best result. For instance, it may make sense to plea and be convicted to a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony. You lose your expungement and sealing rights, but you are not a convicted felon. Perhaps entering into a diversion program is the better option. Do not take your future lightly. The defense attorneys at Aaron Delgado & Associates will fight to protect yours!

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