Differences Between a Conviction and Withhold

A person found guilty of committing a crime in Florida may be convicted (adjudicated guilty) by the court or the court can withhold the adjudication. A withhold of adjudication is not a conviction under Florida law.

The main difference between a conviction and withhold of adjudication in the context of record expungements is:

  • A conviction stops you dead in your tracks.
  • A withhold may qualify you to have your record sealed.

It is very important, when charged with a crime, to ensure the adjudication is withheld.

Not All Findings of Guilt Are Convictions in Florida

There are only a few possibilities that can occur in a criminal case and the court has options depending on the result:

  • You’re arrested but the State Attorney’s Office never files charges against you.
    • Court loses jurisdiction.
    • This is called “No Information” or “No Bill.”
  • The charges filed against you are dropped or dismissed.
    • Prosecutor drops charges (nolle prosequi); court loses jurisdiction.
    • Court dismisses charges; state has options.
  • You are acquitted of the charges.
    • State and Court lose jurisdiction.
  • You are found guilty of the offense.
    • Court must either;
      • adjudicate you guilty (convict)
      • withhold the adjudication of guilt (not convict)

⚠ Regardless of any of these outcomes, you have an arrest record.

When to Expunge; When to Seal

If your case was dropped or you were found not guilty, you may be able to expunge that arrest record. If you were found guilty but had the adjudication of guilt withheld, you may be able to seal that arrest record. See the differences between expunging and sealing by following the link below.

⚖ Expungement Differences

If you do not know the court outcome of your arrests, you can run a personal criminal history on yourself through FDLE. The cost is $24.

⚖ FDLE Criminal History Checks

A Florida Conviction Is …

After you have been found guilty of the charges against you, the court adjudicates you guilty. This is a conviction under Florida law.

Being Arrested and an Arrest Record

When you are arrested (either by handcuffs and jail or a Notice to Appear) a record is created. This is an arrest record. It does not matter if all charges are dropped – you have an arrest record.

The State Attorney’s Options After Your Arrest

Upon receipt of the police report the State Attorney has several options. They can file:

  • No Information Notice: Also called a No Bill, this means they are not filing formal charges. For most cases this means the case has been dropped. It does not mean the arrest record disappears.
  • An Information: This is a formal charging document and it means they are going to pursue the charges listed against you.⚠
  • An Indictment: This is also a formal charge and requires the convening of a grand jury.

⚠ Certain traffic offenses can be formally charged by law enforcement without review by the State Attorney’s office.

If You Are Formally Charged With A Criminal Offense

If you are charged and you enter a plea of guilty or no contest then you will be found guilty by the court. However, being found guilty does not mean you have been convicted.

The court, after finding you guilty, must then decide if you will be Adjudicated Guilty or if the court will grant a Withhold of the adjudication of guilt. This also applies when a jury finds you guilty after a trial.

Withhold Adjudication …

A withhold of adjudication means that the court’s decided not to convict you of the charges, even though you have been found guilty of committing them.

Withhold Adjudication and Sealing the Record

If the arrest record you want to get rid of resulted in a withhold of adjudication, that offense can be sealed providing you meet the other Florida expungement qualifications (i.e., you have (1) never been convicted of another offense, (2) you have never sealed or expunged a prior Florida arrest record), and the offense you were found guilty of is not prohibited by law.

⚖ Prohibited Offenses

What to Look For On Your Case Disposition

The words you want to see on your “disposition” of your case are:

  • withhold of adjudication
  • adjudication withheld
  • withhold the adjudication
  • adjudication of guilt withheld

These are the best examples of the wording you may find on your disposition and any other similar description will also work. The magic word is any form or the word “withhold.”

Clarke v. United States, 184 So. 3d 1107, (Fla. 2016): This case gives the best explanation of the law about Florida’s ability to find someone guilty but not convict them of a crime. The Florida Supreme Court answered the question posed to them by the Eleventh Circuit Federal Court of Appeal (they were also confused).

Dropped (Nolle Prosequi), Dismissed, No Information

If you have been arrested the criminal charges may still go away.

  • The State Attorney can file formal charges against you then decide to drop the case.
  • The court can dismiss the case based on certain legal issues.
  • The State Attorney can decide to never file formal charges.

In these instances you have not been found guilty and you have not been convicted.

If the arrest record you want to get rid of resulted in the case being dropped, dismissed, or not filed on, you can expunge that record provided you meet the other qualifications.

⚖ Expungement Qualifications

For More Information

If you want more information emailed to you about having your Florida record expunged or sealed, please submit the form below.

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More Information about Florida Expungements:

⚖ Florida Record Expungements and Sealings