I hear it all the time; I can’t have a conviction on this case. Unfortunately, most people outside of the courtroom don’t understand what a conviction is actually. Florida Statute 948.01 empowers Florida judges with the authority to withhold adjudication to certain offenses in the State of Florida. A withhold of adjudication is not a conviction. A withhold is a term used in sentencing in which the judge orders some sanctions, but does not formally convict the defendant of a criminal offense. Therefore, the defendant does not receive the consequences from a conviction in a criminal case.
A withhold is usually granted when a defendant is facing a first misdemeanor or felony conviction. In some cases a judge may withhold adjudication even if the defendant has prior convictions or withholds. No, the charge is not dropped; only the State Attorney’s Office can drop the charge. This is not the same. Instead, adjudication of guilt is withheld and there is no conviction.
Having a criminal charge withheld is a good alternative to a conviction. People who receive a withhold generally do not have to report the incident on employment applications if the question on the application is phrased, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” Ethically, the person can respond with a “no” answer. The ability to honestly such a question can make all the difference in the world in a search for your next job.
A felony conviction can cause numerous problems for your future. One of these problems, may prevent a person from the right to own a firearm. But, if a felony conviction is withheld, you may still retain the right to possess a firearm. You also don’t lose your civil rights, such as the right to vote and the right to serve on a jury.
The effect of a felony conviction can also affect you if you ever have to appear as a witness in a courtroom. In Florida, an attorney is always permitted to ask a witness if they have ever been convicted of a felony or a crime involving dishonesty or false statement. If there is a withhold of conviction, the lawyer cannot even ask the question. A withhold of an adjudication can also save your driving privileges. By allowing a withhold on a drug charge, it could stop a defendant from having their drivers license suspended for two years.
A withhold does have some limitations, however, the Florida Supreme Court has held that withholds of adjudication for the crime of driving with a suspended driver’s license are treated as convictions for purposes of determining some suspensions.
If a question on a job application asks if you have ever been arrested or charge as a defendant in a government proceeding then you would still have to answer “yes.”
In capital felonies, life felonies, and first degree felonies, adjudications also cannot be withheld. Pursuant to Florida Statute 775.08435., second degree felony convictions cannot be withheld unless one of two conditions is met. First, the prosecutor can request that adjudication be withheld. Second, the court finds that the facts and circumstances of the case warrant a withhold of adjudication. Third degree felonies may be withheld. If the defendant has a prior withhold of adjudication for a felony, however, the court may not withhold adjudication unless one of the two same conditions are met. A defendant with two or more prior withholds may not obtain a withhold of adjudication of any felony.
The limitations also do not cross the Florida state line. Groups and Governments outside the state of Florida, including Federal agencies, may not recognize withholds and may consider them equivalent to a conviction.