Adjudication of Guilt and Withholding Adjudication of Guilt

If a person enters a guilty plea, no contest plea, or is found guilty at trial to a crime, a judge must render a final judgment regarding the person's guilt.

Subject to certain statutory limitations, a judge may either adjudicate a person guilty or withhold adjudication of guilt. [1]

If a judge adjudicates a person guilty, they are considered to have been formally convicted of the crime. And in the case of a person adjudicated guilty of a felony, the person is considered a “convicted felon.”

However, if a judge withholds adjudication of guilt, the person avoids being formally branded a convicted criminal, the consequent loss of civil rights, and being subject to other collateral consequences triggered when a person is adjudicated guilty. [2]

Withholding Adjudication of Guilt: The Conviction Misnomer

Unfortunately, while the court system and most lay persons do not consider a judgment withholding adjudication of guilt to be a conviction, it is still considered a conviction for statutory purposes.

Which begs the question, what is the benefit of having adjudication of guilt withheld if you are still legally considered to have been convicted of the offense?

Advantages of Withholding Adjudication of Guilt

Under Florida law, a person who receives a withhold of adjudication of guilt can lawfully deny having been convicted of the underlying crime; cannot be impeached with the crime when testifying in future court proceedings; will not lose their civil rights, and, most importantly, maintains their eligibility to petition to seal their criminal record.

Additionally, a judgment withholding adjudication of guilt does not trigger certain collateral consequences that accompany an adjudication of guilt. The most common example being that a person adjudicated guilty of a drug offense loses their driver's license for one year, whereas a person does not lose their driver's license if they receive a withhold of adjudication of guilt.

Disadvantages of Withholding Adjudication of Guilt

If a person reoffends, a prior judgment withholding adjudication of guilt will be treated as a conviction by a court for purposes of sentencing. [3]

Under Federal law, a judgment withholding adjudication of guilt is considered a conviction for immigration purposes and can be used to initiate removal proceedings against an immigrant. [4]

A criminal case that results in a judgment withholding adjudication of guilt will still appear on a criminal background check and can be considered by a private employer when making a hiring decision. [5]

Statutory Limitations to Withholding Adjudication of Guilt

While there is no limitation on a judge's ability to adjudicate a person guilty of a crime, a judge may only withhold adjudication of guilt if the judge believes the person is unlikely to engage in future criminal conduct and that the ends of justice and the welfare of society will be protected by doing so.

However, the judge's ability to withhold adjudication of guilt is statutory limited by the degree of felony a person is charged with and the person's prior criminal record. [6]

Capital, Life, and First Degree Felony

A judge may not withhold adjudication of guilt if a person enters a guilty or no contest plea, or is found guilty by a jury of a capital, life, or first degree felony regardless of the mitigating circumstances.

Second Degree Felony with Prior Withhold of Adjudication of Guilt

If a person charged with a second degree felony has previously received a withhold of adjudication of guilt on an unrelated felony and enters a guilty or no contest plea, or is found guilty by a jury of the second degree felony, a judge may not withhold adjudication of guilt:

Second Degree Felony with No Prior Withhold of Adjudication of Guilt

If a person charged with a second degree felony has never previously received a withhold of adjudication of guilt on a felony and enters a guilty or no contest plea, or is found guilty by a jury of the second degree felony, a judge may withhold adjudication of guilt if:

  1. The state attorney requests in writing that adjudication be withheld; or
  2. The court makes written findings that withholding of adjudication is reasonably justified based on mitigating circumstances enumerated in Florida Statute 921.0026.

Third Degree Felony

A judge may not withhold adjudication of guilt on a third degree felony offense if the defendant has had adjudication of guilt withheld on two or more previous felonies.

First and Second Degree Misdemeanors

A judge may withhold adjudication of guilt on any misdemeanor offense so long as there is not a more specific statutory prohibition to withholding adjudication of guilt.

For example, under Florida Statute 316.656, a court is prohibited from withholding adjudication of guilt for any person who enter a guilty or no contest plea, or is found guilty of DUI.

Juvenile Offenses

If a person is prosecuted in the juvenile justice system, a court may withhold adjudication of guilt on all felony or misdemeanor offenses.

However, if a minor is prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system, the judge must follow the requirements of Florida Statute 775.08435.

Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Richard Hornsby

If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in Central Florida or the greater Orlando area, please contact Criminal Defense Lawyer today.

The initial consultation is free and I am always available to advise you on the proper course of action that can be taken.

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