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What does a “Withhold of Adjudication” Really Mean?

In Florida, when someone is a criminal defendant and is charged with their first misdemeanor or their first felony case, many times the prosecutor will offer a plea bargain that includes a “Withhold of Adjudication.”  A “Withhold” enables the judge to accept a plea of guilty or a plea of no contest, yet not formally convict a defendant.

These “Withholds” can be difficult to understand, but are beneficial to criminal defendants for many reasons.  Firstly, because a withhold is not a formal conviction, if someone was asked in a job setting “have ever been convicted of a crime?” a withhold allows that person to legally answer “no.”  Additionally, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement allows individuals with criminal records to seal and later expunge certain charges if they have received a withhold of adjudication on that charge.  Under no circumstances can that charge be sealed and expunged if a person was “adjudicated” or formally convicted.

The benefit of a withhold is even more substantial when a defendant is charged with a felony.  If a person is adjudicated/convicted of a felony – they will lose some of their rights including the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury and, most importantly, the right to own and possess a firearm.  Fortunately, a withhold of adjudication allows a defendant to retain those rights.

Withholds do contain substantial benefits, but are normally limited to first time offenders.  However, there are instances where people can receive multiple withholds of adjudications.  Finally, it must be highlighted that a withhold is not a dropped case, and a withhold does not indicate a “clean” record.  Nevertheless, withholds in Florida are an unique and important tool for criminal defendants that dampens some of the negative effects that arise from pleading guilty or no contest to a misdemeanor or (especially) a felony charge.