Overcoming An Arrest and Moving On
Every day people are arrested. For some it is a way of life, for others it is a horrible one-time experience. Those that cannot learn from these experiences, well, I have no advice for you …maybe “dream small.” But the majority of you that feel like your world is crashing down because of this first time mistake – relax, take a deep breath, and have hope. You can get past this and move on with your life. Just remember the words “adjudication withheld.”
Getting Back On Your Feet
The first thing you must do is stop all the spinning going on in your head. Contacting a lawyer may help and you should seek legal advice but you should also have a grasp of what is going on. You don’t want to go through this in a fog.
The first thing you need to understand is the procedure. You were arrested, you may have had your initial or first appearance, but that is just the beginning. The arraignment is the next hearing. This is the first court date you have to go to unless you hire a lawyer to represent you for your case (and you should hire a lawyer if you can). The only things that happen at an arraignment are:
- The Court tells you what the State Attorney’s Office has charged you with.
- The Court will see if you qualify for the Public Defender to represent you.
- The Court asks you how you want to plea.
- No Contest (think of it as the same as Guilty)
- Not Guilty
- The prosecutor (or judge) may make a offer to settle the case.
If you enter a plea of Guilty or No Contest the court will most probably resolve the case right then and there. Unless the prosecutor or the judge told you in advance what the sanctions would be, you should not blindly accept responsibility for whatever it is you have been charged with. There is no penalty for entering a plea of not guilty and changing your mind later. IMPORTANT: Read next paragraph.
Do Not Be Adjudicated Guilty – Magic Words are “Adjudication Withheld”
If you are going to enter a plea of Guilty or No Contest, remember if the offer includes an “Adjudication of Guilt” you will be convicted and this will never come off your public arrest record.
You want the judge to “withhold” the adjudication of guilt. That keeps you from being convicted and may allow you to seal your public arrest record in the future.
The magic word is “withhold” or any form of it. Remember that – think “Adjudication Withheld.”
After You Enter a Not Guilty Plea
After your Not Guilty plea has been entered, your case will be set for a another hearing date. If you have hired an attorney he or she will probably waive your appearance to this hearing. If you don’t have a lawyer or you have the public defender, you must go to this hearing.
At this point the Court only wants to know:
- Will you plead guilty or No Contest?
- Do you need a continuance?
- Do you want to go to trial?
There may be other things such as requesting time for motions to be heard but that is usually entailed with a continuance.
IMPORTANT: If you have a lawyer or the public defender, they will probably convey to you an offer and explain the pros and cons with it. Many first offense offers are pretty standard. Listen carefully to what the offer is. Remember – you need to have the adjudication of guilt “withheld” by the court. Otherwise the offer is a life sentence (the arrest will be seen by the public for the rest of your life*).
The Resolution of the Case – Adjudication Withheld
How you decide to resolve your case is up to you. No one can force you into entering a plea against your will. However, it is quite usual for a first offender to obtain a withhold of adjudication – so ask for it. “Your Honor, can I have adjudication withheld.” Even if the offer from the prosecutor is to adjudicate you guilty – ask the judge for adjudication withheld.
Many first offenders are offered “diversion.” These are programs set up by the State Attorneys Office. The basic concept is you do the sanctions (fines, classes, community service) you would have done if you entered a plea of “guilty” but, once completed, the charges are dismissed. This is a win and if offered you should accept it and complete it. If you do this, you can expunge the arrest.
Once the Case is Closed
Once the case is closed and you have completed any sanctions required by the court and paid all fees – you have one more thing to do. Because all arrests and everything that flows from an arrest is a public record – you need to make that record a non-public record.
How to Make Your Case Non-Public
If you entered a plea of no contest or guilty and had the adjudication of guilt withheld, you can now seal the record. If your case was dismissed because you had a great attorney or completed pretrial diversion, you can now expunge the record. Both accomplish the same goal.
Once your case is no longer a public record you can move on with your life and leave this bad moment in the past.
Please note the date this article was published. The information listed above is subject to change as changes are made to the laws. The information written above is meant only to be for Informational Purposes Only and is not legal advice.
If any corrections or errors are found please notify me as soon as possible.
Eric Dirga has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1995. His office is Eric J. Dirga, PA, located online in Orlando, FL. He provides representation for sealing and expunging criminal records throughout the state of Florida.
*That is the current law. If it changes, this may change.