Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains Upside of “Withholding Adjudication” in Florida

Broward criminal defense attorneyIf you’re arrested in Broward County, you might qualify for a Florida criminal case outcome that involves “withholding adjudication.” As a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer can explain, this is a type of case outcome that isn’t a conviction – but it isn’t an acquittal or dismissal either. If you’re likely to be convicted, a judge’s decision to withhold adjudication can be a preferrable outcome. However, if you’re innocent and/or there’s strong evidence supporting your defense, it may not be in your best interest to agree to an outcome of withholding adjudication.

It’s really important if prosecutors offer a plea deal in a criminal case that involves withholding adjudication that you confer first with an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney who can explain how this is likely to play out in your case, and whether it’s wise given the unique circumstances of your situation. There are many scenarios for which fighting the charges or agreeing to plead guilty to a lesser charge is actually your best option.

What Does It Mean to Withhold Adjudication?

Essentially, withholding adjudication is a means of suppressing judgment. Per F.S. 948.01, judges in Florida are empowered to withhold adjudication for certain offenses and certain defendants. A person whose case ends in the judge withholding adjudication will face some sanctions (which will include probation), but not a formal conviction (unless they violate certain terms of the agreement).

This option is generally extended in cases involving:

  • First-time offenders.
  • Individuals not likely to re-offend.
  • Victims who were not seriously injured.
  • Those NOT facing first-degree felony, life felony, or capital felony charges.
  • Defendant is NOT facing a third-degree domestic violence charge – unless the prosecutor has made a special request OR the court finds there are mitigating circumstances (per F.S. 775.08435).
  • Defendant is NOT facing a DUI charge.

Although adjudication withheld can technically be granted for those facing second-degree felonies and third-degree felonies, it’s generally unlikely unless there are mitigating circumstances and the defendant has no history of prior offenses.

Adjudication withheld does NOT mean that the charges have been dropped (i.e., a nolle prosequi). Only the state attorney’s office can do that. Furthermore, while it’s technically a means to avoid conviction, some out-of-state commercial and government organizations may not recognize a “withhold” issued in Florida. Instead, they view it akin to conviction. As to whether you’re required to disclose these cases in paperwork for employment, financial assistance, housing, etc., it depends on how the question is asked. If the question is, “Have you ever been arrested or charged with a criminal offense?” your answer may still need to be “Yes.” If the question is whether you’ve been convicted, you can safely answer “no,” at least where this specific charge is concerned.

It’s also worth pointing out that if the case for which you’re seeking to have adjudication withheld involves a civil traffic violation that you’re hoping won’t show up on your commercial driver’s license record: No dice. Federal law – specifically 49 CFR 384.226 – prohibits this.

Benefits to Adjudication Withheld in Florida

All that said, having a criminal conviction “withheld” can be a best-case-scenario alternative outcome in cases where there’s strong evidence to support conviction. Our Broward criminal defense attorney team will try to do all we can to advocate for adjudication withheld in cases where it makes good sense to do so.

As noted in the 2008 Florida Supreme Court case of Peters v. State, the purpose of granting probation without actual adjudication of guilt is rehabilitation of someone who has committed a crime – without imposing a formal/judicial brand on them as a convicted criminal that will result in the loss of civil rights and other “damning consequences.”

Key benefits to a case ending in adjudication withheld are:

  • Lack of a criminal conviction. Criminal convictions carry SO many implications when they’re on your criminal record. Even misdemeanor convictions can mean loss of your job, difficulty qualifying for certain professional licenses, revocation of driving privileges, loss of Second Amendment rights to carry firearms, etc. This allows you to avoid those consequences.
  • Just probation. Rather than going to jail or prison, you get probation. That may also include counseling, batterer’s intervention, drug treatment, etc., but so long as you abide those terms, you get to avoid being locked up.
  • Avoiding trial. Taking a case to trial in criminal court is time-consuming, expensive, emotionally draining – and all of it is part of the public record, forever. Withholding adjudication allows you to avoid this. (In fairness, a plea bargain often does the same, so this shouldn’t be the sole consideration.)

If you’re curious about whether you qualify for a finding of adjudication withheld and whether it’s a smart defense strategy to pursue it, our Broward criminal defense lawyers can provide answers and guidance.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

F.S. 775.0824, Prohibition on withholding adjudication in felony cases, 2022 Florida Statutes

More Blog Entries:

How Can I Have My Fort Lauderdale, Florida Criminal Record Sealed or Expunged? Oct. 17, 2022, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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