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What is a 'withhold of adjudication' in Florida criminal law?

We used a term in a recent blog post that we should take a moment to clarify. The term was "withhold of adjudication." Just what is meant by a withhold of adjudication in Florida criminal law?

In Florida, a withhold of adjudication is an option available to a court as a way to resolve certain types of cases. It works as follows: a defendant agrees to pay fines and to be on probation for a length of time. Once probation is completed, the individual may proceed with no record of a conviction; there is no adjudication by the court either way. A defendant who has had a withhold of adjudication can truthfully say that he or she has never been convicted of a crime in Florida -- something particularly important when filling out a job application.

However, courts may only offer a withhold of adjudication in relatively narrow circumstances. In cases involving drunk driving charges, for example, the withhold of adjudication option is completely off the table. Domestic violence, robbery, arson, manslaughter, homicide -- all are examples of the kinds of charges which may not be resolved through a withhold of adjudication. Importantly, even if a defendant gets a withhold of adjudication, it may be virtually worthless outside of Florida, as other states and federal entities do not recognize such a thing.

Because courts are so restricted in the types of cases where they may withhold adjudication, defendants may benefit from consultation with a criminal defense professional regarding the different types of defenses available to them, as well as the possibilities of expungement or record-sealing if there is a conviction. The information herein is intended to be general in nature only, and is not specific legal advice.

Source: The Florida Bar Journal, "Withhold of Adjudication: What Everyone Needs to Know," George E. Tragos and Peter A. Sartes, February 2008

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