Differences Between a Conviction and Withhold

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Adjudicated Guilty (in Florida) means Convicted

A person found guilty of committing a crime in Florida is convicted of the offense when the disposition of the Court is to adjudicate the defendant “guilty.” This is the Court’s decision. It has nothing to do with how you pled; guilty of no contest. However, being found guilty, by itself, does not mean you are convicted under Florida law. The court can withhold the adjudication of guilt.

Not Convicted means the Court “Withheld” the adjudication of guilt

When the Court withholds the adjudication of guilt it means you have been determined to be guilty of the offense but not convicted under Florida law.

The main difference between a conviction [adjudicated guilty] and withhold of adjudication in the context of expungements is:

  • Any Florida conviction [adjudication of guilt] for a criminal offense stops you in your tracks; it is an automatic bar to expunging or sealing any Florida arrest record.
  • A withhold of adjudication will not bar you from an expungement or sealing of any other Florida arrest (and you may qualify you to have that record sealed).

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

Criminal Case Dispositions

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 appellate options.
  • You are acquitted of the charges.
    • State and Court lose jurisdiction.
  • You are found guilty of the offense.
    • Court must impose sentence and either;
      • adjudicate you guilty (convict)
      • withhold the adjudication of guilt (not convict)

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

A Finding of Guilt Does Not Mean Conviction

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.

What to Look For On Your Case Disposition

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

  • withhold of adjudication [WH]
  • adjudication withheld [adj/w]
Clarke v. United States

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).

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