The state of Florida has a law that permits a judge in a criminal case the ability to withhold an adjudication of conviction. The law governing withheld adjudication is set out in Florida Statutes §948.01.
In basic terms, the law permitting a judge to withhold adjudication means that a judge in a criminal proceeding can impose a sentence of probation on a defendant without first convicting that defendant of the underlying crime. The judge withholds imposing a conviction pending successful completion of the probationary term.
If the defendant completes the sentence of probation successfully, the presiding judge loses jurisdiction over the case. What this means is that the judge can issue no further orders in the case and the defendant is never convicted of the crime. On the other hand, if the defendant fails to successfully complete the term of probation, the judge then enters an order of conviction. Moreover, at that juncture, a criminal defendant may be sentenced to a further term of incarceration if the crime at issue permits for that level of punishment.
A Florida judge can withhold imposing a conviction
Withheld adjudication is available in the state of Florida in misdemeanor and certain types of felony cases. A number of benefits accrue to a person who is able to obtain a withheld adjudication and successfully complete the probation term. One of the major benefits of withheld adjudication is that it will allow for the case to be sealed following successfully completion of the term, assuming other eligibility requirements are satisfied such as having no convictions on his or her record and having no other cases sealed or expunged in Florida.
In the case of misdemeanor charges, a defendant granted withheld adjudication is also able to avoid a driver's license forfeiture associated with certain minor drug cases. A defendant can avoid points on a driver's license associated with some types of traffic related infractions.
The benefits in a case in which a felony is charged are more substantial. When a withheld adjudication is granted in a felony case, and assuming the defendant successfully completes the court-ordered term of probation, he or she does not forfeit his or her civil rights. A defendant does not forfeit the right to vote, serve on a jury or hold public office. The issue of possessing a firearm following a withheld adjudication is not as simple of an issue and is addressed separately below.
Many individuals who consider the prospect of a withheld adjudication in a criminal case presume that they will not sacrifice their right to possess a firearm if the term of probation is successfully completed. In reality, the U.S. justice system does not recognize the withheld adjudication law in Florida as it pertains to the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In other words, under federal law, authorities consider a withheld adjudication to be the same as a conviction when it comes to the issue of a felon in possession of a firearm.
Federal law operates in this manner because there exists no provision under federal law that is comparable to the Florida withheld adjudication law. The net result is that even if the state of Florida maintains that a person's civil rights are intact, including the ability to possess a firearm, the federal government does not. The federal government has the ability to prosecute a person who received a withheld adjudication in a felony case in Florida who later is found in possession of a firearm.
The Florida law governing withheld adjudication is not without some notable limitations. Indeed, in recent years, both the Florida legislature and the state's Supreme Court have taken steps that have limited the application of and benefits associated with withheld adjudication in the Sunshine State.
Withheld adjudication is not available in DUI cases. In addition, the Florida legislature enacted Florida Statute §775.08435 that precludes withheld adjudication in cases involving first-degree felonies, and the law makes it more difficult to obtain a withheld adjudication in cases involving second-degree felonies.
In a number of different cases, the Florida Supreme Court has concluded that a withheld adjudication constitutes a conviction in future criminal proceedings. In other words, a case in which an adjudication of guilt was withheld is used in aggravating or otherwise calculating the sentence in a subsequent criminal proceeding.
The same holds true on the federal level. As is the case with the gun possession issue, federal courts will consider a withheld adjudication the same as a conviction because there exists no comparable provision in federal law.
A primary benefit associated with a withheld adjudication is found in the realm of seeking employment. Many job applications include a query about being convicted of a crime, oftentimes specifically referencing a felony conviction. A person with a withheld adjudication can honestly respond in the negative to this type of question regarding a prior conviction.
With this noted, many businesses are becoming more savvy when it comes to this type of questioning on a job application. A growing number of businesses include a question on a job application that refers to a conviction, diversion or withheld adjudication for a particular crime.
A person also needs to understand that a withheld adjudication will show up on a criminal history record. If the information is entered accurately into such a report, it will show that no actual conviction occurred in a particular case. With that said, a potential employer will still be able to ascertain from this record that a person was charged with a particular crime, entered a plea to that crime and served a term of probation as a sentence
If you have received withheld adjudication in Florida and successfully completed the sentence, click here to learn more about record sealing in Florida and see if you are eligible to clear it from your record.
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