Adjudication vs. Withhold of Adjudication

In Florida, an “adjudication”, or being “adjudicated guilty” means a defendant has been convicted of a crime.  This conviction cannot be sealed or expunged, and unless the defendant is granted clemency, stays with the defendant forever.  A conviction carries with it many consequences that will often impact an individual’s ability to secure employment and housing, damage one’s image within the community, result in the surrender of certain civil rights, and has other, often unforeseeable, financial implications.

In contrast, a “withhold of adjudication” or simply a “withhold” is essentially a criminal sentence without a criminal conviction.  This outcome allows the defendant to face whatever penalties the judge issues, without the negative consequences of a criminal conviction.  Importantly, a “withhold” is eligible to be sealed.  Judges typically “withhold” adjudicating a defendant guilty if it is a first offense or if the conduct seems anomalous with the individual’s character.

A withhold obviously has several advantages.  An individual with a “withhold” can answer the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” with “No.”  (Note the wording of this question; had it been phrased “Have you ever been arrested?” or “Have you ever been a defendant in a government proceeding?”, the answer would have to be “Yes.”)  Similarly, an individual with a “withhold” does not forfeit certain civil rights that come with a conviction, such as the right to own a firearm and the right to sit on a jury.  An individual charged with possession of cocaine or cannabis also avoids very strict penalties – i.e., mandatory two-year license suspension – when the sentence is a withhold.

Judges, however, face some limits on their ability to issue withholds.  First, some crimes, such as DUI, carry mandatory adjudications.  Second, although most third-degree (the least severe) may be withheld, once the crimes become second-degree, a judge’s ability to withhold is limited to the occurrence of one of two events: either the prosecutor requests the withhold, or the court makes specific findings that the underlying facts of the case warrant a withhold.  Third, if a defendant has a prior withhold, the court cannot issue another one, unless one of the same two conditions is met.  Fourth, capital, life, and first-degree felonies cannot be withheld.  It should also be noted, that for the purposes of compiling a “scoresheet, withholds and adjudications are treated equally.

Finally, the advantages of a withhold typically end once you enter the federal system or face charges in another state.  That is, both the federal government and nearly every other state treat a withhold of adjudication as a conviction.

We tirelessly try to get our clients withholds whenever appropriate.