WHY DOES AN ADJUDICATION OF GUILT IN ANY CRIMINAL CASES MATTER & HOW CAN IT BE AVOIDED?

What does it mean when a judge at sentencing finds that a defendant is adjudicated guilty? In real terms it may trigger time in prison, loss of employment as well as future job opportunities combined with the loss of basic rights of American citizenship such as the right to vote, the right to possess a firearm and the right to travel. Yet far too often defendants are cast out of society by those two simple words uttered by the sentencing judge -adjudicated guilty. 

Adjudication of guilty means that the judge upon looking at all of the facts and circumstances of a case has made a finding that there is in fact guilt. It doesn’t always have to be that way. It’s possible for the judge to avoid giving a direct adjudication of guilt in many criminal cases.

Prosecutors will ask the sentencing judge for an adjudication of guilt based on the following factors:

1. The more serious the underlying criminal conduct, the more likely it is that an adjudication of guilt will be ordered. In fact, for many criminal acts Florida statutes specify that a judge must make a finding of guilt. For example, a Clearwater, Florida judge in Pinellas County can not withhold adjudication of guilt in a murder case nor a sexual battery case, yet the judges hands are also tied in some less significant cases when the facts justify it such as theft, battery on a law enforcement officer and DUI. Upon making a determination that there is a statutory requirement for an adjudication of guilt under the charged offense, it may be necessary for defense counsel to negotiate with the prosecutor for a charge which is less severe that allows the court more discretion in granting a withholding of adjudication.
2. The prosecutor and sentencing judge by Florida law must inform the victim of any potential change of plea and allow the victim to be present at the time of sentencing. In practice this means that the victim’s consent is often required for a sentence which does not include an adjudication of guilt.
3. But of even more importance is the prior record of a defendant. If a defendant has any kind of priors even if only a misdemeanor rather than a felony, then the likelihood of an adjudication of guilt in any given case escalates. This is true because most judges view an adjudication of guilt as the standard plea with anything less than that being a gift. And in a sense this is true under Florida law in that once there has been a withholding of adjudication in a prior case the law is framed to make in more difficult for the sentencing judge to again withhold adjudication without justification on the record. After all, the reasoning goes, the defendant was already given one chance, why should he be given another? In these cases it’s important to establish how the defendant has changed and why the previous case should not be counted as a prior for finding an adjudication of guilt.

When possible a withholding of adjudication is always preferable to an adjudication of guilt. It’s even in the best interest of the client to ask the sentencing judge for a more punitive sentence if the court will grant a withholding of adjudication. If the plea bargain called for an adjudication with a period of probation and related requirements, it would be well worth exploring possibly adding community service or extended probation for the opportunity of avoiding an adjudication of guilt in the case. Sometimes this can be tough for a client to swallow, yet it’s part of what good lawyers should be doing – finding the best possible outcome for their client by persuading the prosecutor and judge during plea negotiations that everyone benefits from a second chance.

WITHHOLDING OF ADJUDICATION SENTENCE MEANS YOU WERE NEVER FOUND GUILTY UNDER FLORIDA LAW

What does it mean when a Judge withholds adjudication in a criminal case in Florida?
Your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney recently asked to provide a letter for a man who told me that he often has difficulty establishing that he’s never been convicted of a crime even though under Florida law he was never found guilty in court.

Here’s what he asked me:

A few years ago I was given a disposition of Adjudication Withheld on a felony criminal case in Tampa Bay, Florida. 

Van gogh's portrait of Alexander Reid shows the type of somber man in need of a withholding of adjudication from a Tampa Bay, Florida Judge.
Van Gogh,  Adjudication

Since then I’ve been confronted by prospective employers and even prospective landlords with the public information about my case. 

Despite the fact that the information they find on the case clearly indicates that I received an Adjudication Withheld, they seem to believe that I was guilty of a felony. 

Could you send me a letter that I can use to establish that I was never convicted of a felony?

How could I say no? This kind of problem often could be avoided if after a case is resolved immediate action is taken to seal or expunge the case. For those cases that can’t be sealed or expunged here’s a portion of the letter which I provided for him that could serve the purposes of anyone in his situation:

Under Florida Statutes Section 948.01(2) an Adjudication Withheld is not a conviction. Florida Judges are vested with authority to grant a Withholding of Adjudication whenever the facts and circumstances of a case establish that there should be no finding of guilt in the case. 

When a Florida Judge sentences someone with Adjudication Withheld it literally means the Court does not make a finding of guilt, because the law enables the Judge to “stay or withhold the adjudication of guilt.”

Since there was no finding of guilt, anyone treating the case as though there were a finding of guilt may find themselves subject to civil liability under Florida law.

If that isn’t enough, have them give your favorite Clearwater criminal lawyer a call and I’ll explain it to them or drag them kicking and screaming to this web page.