In Florida, if a defendant is found guilty of a crime, either through a plea or finding at trial, a judge has the authority to make the final judgment in the case. That means they can either adjudicate the defendant guilty or withhold adjudication. When a person is adjudicated guilty, that means they have been formally convicted of the offense. When the adjudication is withheld, they technically have not been convicted and may avoid some of the consequences of being designated a convict.
Does Adjudication Withheld Mean the Case Was Dismissed?
If adjudication is withheld, that does not mean the case was dismissed. In this situation, the defendant either pleads guilty or no contest to the charges or was found guilty by a judge or jury. The case did not get dismissed, nor were the underlying charges dropped. Basically, the defendant admitted guilt or enough evidence existed to lead to such a finding.
In many cases, when a judge withholds adjudication, they also sentence the defendant to a term of probation. Generally, the defendant must successfully complete probation to avoid having an official judgment of guilt be placed on their criminal record. Failure to abide by probation conditions would result in a formal conviction for the offense.
What's the Difference Between a Conviction and Withhold of Adjudication?
Technically, a withhold of adjudication is not a conviction. However, there are some nuances to the law that, in some ways, would cause a withhold of adjudication to be treated like a conviction. We'll get to that shortly.
If a judge decides to withhold adjudication, the defendant would not have an official conviction on their criminal record. This result is beneficial, as it relieves the individual from being subject to some consequences arising from a criminal conviction.
For instance, say a person was adjudicated guilty of a crime. If they apply for a job and the employer asks whether they have been convicted of an offense, they would have to answer "yes."
Additionally, a person officially convicted of a felony offense would lose specific rights, such as that to possess a firearm.
Conversely, if a person's adjudication was withheld, they are not subject to the same restrictions. For example, they can ethically say "no" to an employment question about convictions, and they can possess a firearm.
Although having an adjudication withheld offers some relief, specific instances exist when the judgment is treated as an official conviction. For example, if the individual is found guilty of another offense, the previous withhold can be considered a conviction when determining the sentence to impose. Additionally, if a person was charged with a felony, they are still required to register as a felon in Florida, regardless of whether adjudication was withheld.
When Can Adjudication Be Withheld?
Florida Statute 948.01(2) provides that a judge has the discretion to adjudicate a defendant guilty or withhold adjudication. However, that authority does not apply to all situations.
Adjudication cannot be withheld for:
- Capital felonies,
- Life felonies, or
- First-degree felonies
For second-degree felonies, whether or not adjudication can be withheld depends on the circumstances. If the defendant was previously granted a withhold for a felony, they are not eligible for this judgment again. If they have never been granted a withhold, the prosecuting attorney can request it, or the court can allow if based on the facts of the case.
Generally, a withhold of adjudication is granted for first-time, non-violent offenses. However, some statutes explicitly forbid such a judgment for the crime.
If you've been charged with a crime in Fort Lauderdale, contact Hager & Schwartz, P.A. at (954) 840-8713 today. We'll review your case, discuss your legal options, and deliver advice on how to proceed.