Adjudication of Guilt Withheld
July 23, 2008 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Is it safe to check no on a state governing board application when asked if I have ever pled "no contest" to a criminal charge if adjudication of guilt was withheld?

In 1990, I was arrested for drinking as a minor when I was 18 years old in Tallahassee, Florida. I pled "no contest," paid a fine and a judgement was entered as adjudication of guilt withheld. I have always been honest on employment applications and have never had a problem securing a job due to this one time lack of judgement. I am in the process of filling out an application for state certification of my current profession and the question of my criminal history has once again popped up. This time, however, if I answer yes, they want certified copies of all of the court documents. I did an FDLE search and my name did not come up. I have a feeling trying to come up with these documents after 18 years is not going to be an easy process. Do you think it would be safe to just check No? I honestly don't think the state board would care that the charge existed, the problem is more about getting these documents.
posted by little miss s to Law & Government (9 answers total)
If adjudication was withheld, the court did not enter a judgement.

You were never found to be guilty. Seems pretty cut-and-dried to me!
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:18 PM on July 23, 2008

I would check the laws on your state for how long juvenile records stay on the books. Your best bet might be a call to the court where you were adjudicated; try and talk to someone who knows what they're talking about in records and see whether you're still listed there.

If the counties in Florida are anything like the ones in Oregon, they'll keep hard copies for 5-10 years (sometimes more) and then archive them to some storage place for another X years, depending on the type of document. The only tough part of retrieving those files will be waiting the day or three days or week it takes for a clerk to go find your records in the storage facility.

Further, why don't you talk to a lawyer about whether you can get the adjudication expunged? I don't know how long that would take but if it were me, I would consider it a good use of my time and money to do so.
posted by Happydaz at 6:43 PM on July 23, 2008

@TheNewWazoo: The application doesn't ask if she was found guilty. It asks if she pled "no contest", which she did.
posted by Dec One at 6:58 PM on July 23, 2008

Unless an actual lawyer gives advise contrary to this, I would say not to lie. It asked if you've plead no contest, which you did.
posted by theichibun at 7:12 PM on July 23, 2008

"Is it safe to check no on a state governing board application when asked if I have ever pled 'no contest' to a criminal charge"


"I was arrested for drinking as a minor when I was 18 years old in Tallahassee, Florida. I pled 'no contest,'"

What is the question, exactly? You want to know if it's okay to lie on the form? I'd say no.

Keep in mind that this is probably precisely the situation they are looking to catch by using the language that they did. If they had meant "had been found guilty" they would've said that. Also keep in mind that an adjudication of guilt is not the same thing as a determination of guilt. You can have the latter without the former.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:20 PM on July 23, 2008

Be honest. To a fault. Tell them the details (at least what you told us), and tell them that you've requested by not received the documents. They probably don't care about the documents (a ticket written out 18 years ago), but your clean background check search should satisfy them. Many professional organizations have a "professionalism" and "character" boards that deal with these things. If you come clean, you're good. If you don't, it could spell (big) trouble for you later. Why spend your life worrying. You drank a few beers at age 18; who really will care about this?
posted by zpousman at 7:37 PM on July 23, 2008

I used to work at a board of accountancy in a southern US state, and I encountered questions like this a lot. You didn’t specify your profession or state, but I hope this perspective helps.

Realistically, I think you’re reasonably safe. However, when I worked at the board I would always, always, always tell applicants to be completely honest on the criminal history question, no matter how minor or distant the charge.

You’re right that the board is unlikely to care about the existence of a charge of this nature. They probably will care if they are able to dig up the dirt on you and you haven’t been forthcoming in the first instance. You mentioned that it didn’t show up on the FDLE search, but just suppose that on the slim chance it lands on the board’s radar and you had failed to mention it when given the opportunity? It could really bite you in the ass (again, this was at an accountancy board which did place a great deal of emphasis on the integrity of future licensees)

I would call the court -- getting your paperwork may be a hassle, but it beats getting shut out of a certification that you’ve probably poured a ton of time, money and effort in working towards.
posted by madforplaid at 8:01 PM on July 23, 2008

You have to answer the question truthfully. "Adjudication withheld" is a peculiar feature of Florida law. It was designed to permit a person to not have a criminal record. But since the feature was established (at least by the 1960's) other states, the federal government and even Florida's own administrative agencies ignore it. For example, if you are applying to the Florida Bar, you MUST disclose this. If you are attempting to get a Florida real estate license, you MUST disclose this. Failure to disclose is grounds for rejection. Getting certified documents of the file may or may not be a trivial task. You are best to hire a paralegal service to physically go to the courthouse and obtain these. If you want to do it yourself, you'll have to contact the Clerk's office. Be prepared to spend hours on the telephone.

As a matter of Florida law, you were never adjudicated guilty of a crime. But according to federal law, you were, and the non-conviction counts for the purposes of establishing your criminal history, deportation, etc.

Good luck.
posted by tesseract420 at 3:11 AM on July 24, 2008

I don't want to lie and I have never left off this small piece of information from any application in the past. I was just really thrown for a loop when I read the requirement to include all court documents related to the charge and outcome. I am going to take zpousman's suggestion and just tell the truth, attempt to get the documents and then explain my situation. My biggest concern was that it would hold up my application and delay my work. That may still be a risk but it is less of a risk than having it denied outright for withholding information.

Thanks everyone. You've helped me escape a potentially damaging situation.
posted by little miss s at 4:25 AM on July 24, 2008

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