What is Withhold of Adjudication in Florida?

As a criminal defense firm, each day we represent people who’ve made mistakes in their lives. Of course, we all make mistakes, but some mistakes are bigger than others. Some mistakes can lead to criminal charges, a conviction, and life-altering consequences.

Aside from the standard consequences of a conviction, such as fines, community service, jail or prison, there are the consequences that people don’t think much about, such as how a conviction will affect an offender’s ability to:

  • Vote
  • Drive (drug offenders)
  • Acquire gainful employment
  • Own, control or possess a firearm
  • Rent or lease a house or apartment
  • Obtain a scholarship
  • Gain entry into a school of higher education
  • Obtain (and maintain) a professional license

A criminal conviction can be devastating for an individual, even a seemingly minor conviction for driving under the influence (DUI). Since a conviction comes up on background checks, it frequently bars offenders from getting a good job, renting a house or apartment, getting money for college, and obtaining a professional license. But for some offenders, there’s a way to avoid the stigma and collateral consequences of a conviction – it’s called “withhold of adjudication.” More on that in a moment.

Florida’s Overcrowded Jails & Prisons

It’s no mystery that the Florida court system is overloaded and it can be quite expensive to prosecute offenders and house them in Florida’s jails and prisons. Not only that, but when someone is convicted of a crime, it can make it very difficult for them to re-enter society. With a criminal record, it can be nearly impossible to find a good job or housing. But with withhold of adjudication, defendants can avoid a conviction and in effect, the negative consequences that are attached.

Many people who work in the criminal justice system view withhold of adjudication as a reasonable compromise for the sound resolution of criminal cases. In these situations, the defendant agrees to pay fines and complete a term of probation. Once the conditions are successfully met in the prescribed timeframe, the probationer is released from probation and he or she cannot be sentenced for the crime in question.

For qualifying misdemeanors, withhold of adjudication allows a defendant to escape the consequences of a conviction, such as a driver license suspension for drug offenders. Felony offenders especially benefit from withhold of adjudication. Their rights to serve in a public office, vote or serve on a jury are not taken away.

But the benefits go even further; for example, if a defendant is filling out a job application and he or she is asked if they were ever “convicted” of a felony, they could deny the conviction. Also, when defendants are filling out a job application, they can legally check the “no” box when asked if they have everbeen convicted of a criminal offense.

Why Withhold of Adjudication?

A lot of people are everyday citizens, who are non-criminals. One day, they get into a heated argument during a divorce in public, or they have an open container of alcohol on the beach and suddenly they have a criminal record that will haunt them for the rest of their life. These individuals are not habitual criminals. They’re normal law-abiding citizens who had a momentary lapse in judgement and they must pay.

Now that the person has a criminal record, it will scar them for years to come and it will affect their housing and employment, their ability to volunteer, and their insurance rates. There is no do-over. A single, isolated criminal episode now becomes a lifelong issue.

So, what can such a person do? The first option is to contact a lawyer from our firm and attempt to prevent charges being filed in the first place. If formal charges are still filed, the second option is to consider the defendant’s alternatives, such as a negotiated plea bargain or withhold of adjudication.

The critical factor is for the defendant to understand the possible legal and collateral consequences that may ensue for months, if not years after their criminal case concludes. Thus, defendants need to be fully aware of their options going into their case and the long-term consequences of each option.

To learn more about withhold of adjudication in Florida, see Section 948.01 of the Florida Statutes, or contact our office to meet with a Tampa criminal defense attorney.