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Withhold of adjudication in Florida: Is it a good or bad thing?

The state of Florida actually has a unique provision in its laws that doesn't exist in other states: A judge can, under certain circumstances, withhold adjudication.

If this option has been offered to you, you should understand what it means and what collateral effects it may have elsewhere in your life before you agree.

What does it mean to withhold adjudication?

A "withhold," as it is commonly called, is not legally a conviction. Nor is it a dismissal or a "not guilty" verdict. From a legal standpoint, if you have a withhold on your record, you can honestly answer that you haven't been convicted of a crime. In that respect, it's a very good alternative to a conviction, especially if you're searching for a job someday. You also don't have to worry about losing your right to own a firearm or the right to vote.

When can a judge withhold adjudication?

Under Florida's guidelines, the judge has to be reasonably convinced of several things:

-- The defendant isn't going to commit the same criminal act again.

-- It doesn't serve the needs of society as a whole or justice to require the defendant to suffer the legal penalty for his or her crime.

-- Some other sanctions make more sense -- such as community-based service, random drug testing and compliance in a drug treatment program or participation in counseling.

A withhold is usually granted when it is the offender's first offense. Withholds are often used in domestic violence cases when there was no serious harm done to the victim.

When is a withhold a potential problem?

You cannot say you've never been arrested or charged. It will very likely show up on any background check, which means that you may still find yourself explaining the circumstances of the withhold to a potential landlord or employer.

The other major problem is that it is, as mentioned, unique to Florida. That means that if you ever move or travel outside the state of Florida, a withhold is generally treated the same as a conviction. It may also be viewed that way by Federal agencies.

For more information on how agreeing to a withhold instead of fighting a domestic violence charge could affect your life, talk to an attorney first -- before you agree to anything.

Source: www.leg.state.fl.us, "The 2016 Florida Statutes 948.01," accessed April 21, 2017

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