What is a Withhold of Adjudication?

In Florida, criminal convictions carry a wide range of punishments in addition to the formal sentence imposed by the court. The court’s sentence can include incarceration, fines, and a period of conditional probation. But after the sentence is served, convicted offenders have to live with a stream of other painful consequences that affect their ability to earn a living, rent or buy property, obtain a professional license, vote, serve in public office, or own a firearm. A criminal conviction on your record can haunt you for the rest of your life. 


One strategy to avoid these life-changing negative consequences is a legal procedure we call “withholding adjudication.” 


This blog post explains how withholding adjudication works, what determines who will get the benefit of a withheld adjudication, and what obligations are imposed when your adjudication was withheld. 



What Does It Mean to Withhold Adjudication in Florida? 


When a defendant is charged with a crime in Florida, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, their case will move through the criminal justice system until it is resolved. In many cases, although the facts of the case may support the charge, or the facts might fit a less serious criminal charge, there are often circumstances weighing in favor of leniency for the defendant.  


As experienced criminal defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell Law Office in Tampa, we take great pride in our ability to achieve very favorable results for our clients. We represent clients who have no responsibility for any wrongdoing, and we also represent people whose poor judgment or personal problems led them to break the law.  


We always strongly advocate for the very best possible outcome for every client. Many of our clients win outright dismissals or complete exonerations. In other cases, when evidence of guilt is strong, we work to find a legal defense to protect our clients from conviction. We are committed to working for the most lenient disposition possible. That’s where “withholding adjudication” often occurs. 


When the court withholds adjudication, it is withholding the immediate entry of an order pronouncing the defendant guilty. Other states sometimes call this a “judgment of conviction.” Unless the judge enters an adjudication of guilt in the record, the defendant is not legally convicted. 


What Factors Determine When a Judge Withholds Adjudication? 


Florida law authorizes a court to withhold adjudication of guilt when there is little likelihood of the defendant reoffending. It is often in the interest of justice and the offender’s rehabilitation to resolve a prosecution with a term of probation instead of imposing a sentence and conviction. And by allowing a person charged with a misdemeanor or a felony to avoid a legal conviction, the volume of cases that go to trial is reduced.  


The practice of withholding adjudication increases the number of cases that are closed through negotiated agreements between the defendant and the state. But not every charge is eligible for adjudication to be withheld. 


The court can consider the following circumstance in deciding whether to withhold jurisdiction in an eligible case: 


  • Plea bargain included withholding adjudication, 
  • The defendant was minor a player in offense, 
  • The defendant had impaired ability to understand they were acting criminally or to conform to the law, 
  • The defendant needs treatment for a mental disorder and agrees to submit to treatment, 
  • Restitution to the victim is needed more than the defendant’s incarceration, 
  • The victim initiated the incident, was a willing participant, or provoked the defendant, 
  • The defendant acted under extreme duress from another, 
  • The defendant compensated the victim before their responsibility for the offense was discovered, The defendant cooperated with the state, 
  • The offense was an unsophisticated and isolated incident and the defendant has remorse, 
  • The defendant was too young to appreciate the wrongfulness of conduct, 
  • The defendant will be sentenced as a youthful offender, 
  • The offense is a nonviolent felony and with a point score lower than 60 and amenable to treatment, 
  • The defendant made a good-faith effort to obtain emergency treatment for an overdose victim. 


Not Eligible for Adjudication Withhold 


Florida law declares that certain criminal charges are not eligible to have adjudication withheld by a judge. No adjudication can be withheld in these disqualified offenses, which are among the most serious crimes: 

  • Capital crimes are punishable by the death penalty, 
  • Crimes punishable by up to life imprisonment 
  • First-degree felonies 
  • DUI 


Under Florida law, adjudication can be withheld by a judge in second-degree or third-degree felony cases, but only if one of the following occurs: 


  • The prosecutor requests the court to withhold adjudication, or 
  • The judge determines that the facts and circumstances of the case justify withholding adjudication. 


The judge is prohibited from withholding adjudication if the defendant has a prior second-degree felony in which adjudication was withheld relating to a different incident. Nor can adjudication be withheld in a third-degree felony case if the defendant has two or more prior adjudications withheld. 


Benefits of Withhold Adjudication 


If a criminal case is resolved with adjudication withheld, the defendant will avoid many consequences they would otherwise suffer. For example, if a job application or prospective employer asks if they were ever convicted of a crime, they are legally entitled to answer “no.” 


A withheld adjudication also prevents the offender from losing their right to vote or possessing or owning a firearm.  


Will the Withhold Adjudication Stay on Your Record? 


Although defendants do not suffer a conviction when their case ends with adjudication withheld, the case will usually remain on the record. The record will specify that adjudication was withheld. While some serious offenses are ineligible to have the records sealed, many offenses, including felony charges, are eligible for the sealing of the case records. Records of offenses that may not be sealed include domestic battery, kidnapping, manslaughter, sex offenses, aggravated assault, burglary, and others. 


Importantly, the “withhold adjudication” prevents a defendant from being convicted under Florida law. But the federal government does not use the same definition of a felony and can view a case with adjudication withheld as a conviction.  


Learn More > The Crucial Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer  


Tampa Criminal Defense  


Get more information about what Withhold Adjudication can mean in your case. Contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law. We’re ready to come to your defense. Call 813-280-1244 for a case review today.  

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