An individual’s criminal history status has a significant impact on employment opportunities. Someone with a felony conviction could face many barriers to getting a job. However, even someone with minor records may worry about their future. The situation grows more complicated when you have an unusual situation. For some, that means worrying about a pending criminal charge appearing on a background check for employment. For others, the worry stems from the fact that their record may reflect an adjudication withheld.

If you’re applying for a job, you may have to answer whether you have any criminal convictions. Employers use background checks to confirm or dispute what you tell them. Lying about convictions is a quick way to lose a job opportunity altogether. What are you meant to say when you don’t have a conviction or an acquittal? Does an adjudication withheld show up on background checks?

Understanding these answers is vital to successfully navigating the hiring process. Here are the essential facts about what happens when a judge withholds adjudication.

What does it mean to withhold adjudication?

For many kinds of criminal charges, judges have leeway in sentencing. In some states, the judicial system actively tries to avoid sending people to prison if there are other options. Such “diversion” programs help first-time offenders and others. A withheld adjudication is one such type of judgment. In these scenarios, the court may decide an individual should have a “last chance” to avoid harsher punishments. A defendant might even plead guilty. What happens after is where things differ.

When a judge withholds a judgment, there is no formal adjudication of guilt. “Adjudication” in this context means deciding on a conviction. When a judge withholds such an adjudication, the defendant temporarily avoids having a conviction on their record.

Defendants must agree to a series of conditions to have the conviction put on pause. This may be a specific diversion program, a probation period, or something else. Judges may require community service or a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program. Some may order classes, such as for anger management.

If the defendant satisfies the terms of this agreement, they can have the charges dismissed. The case goes away, and there is no formal conviction record on file. If the individual violates their terms, the case becomes active again. Often, the result is an immediate conviction because of the prior guilty or “no contest” plea. The defendant may then face a full jail term alongside hefty fines.

What’s the difference between withheld adjudication and a conviction?

In the simplest of terms, an adjudication withheld is not a conviction, but it has the potential to become one. In a sense, a case without an adjudication is “in limbo.” If you’re applying for jobs during this period, that status can make certain things tricky. In areas without ban the box laws, you might still encounter questions about criminal histories on job applications.

If an employer asks you if you have been convicted of a crime, you can say “no” if you have a withheld adjudication. If an employer asks a more detailed question, you may need to answer “yes.” Some companies do ask if you’ve ever had a deferred criminal judgment. Withheld convictions fall under that umbrella. Answering truthfully at this stage is very important.

Is adjudication withheld in a background check?

Yes. A withheld adjudication still goes into official court records. Like pending charges, these will appear on a background check. It may take time for the charge to disappear after the successful completion of an agreed-upon sentence. These records will likely include the crime you were charged with. Since employers will likely see this information, early disclosure can be important. Otherwise, you might encounter some misunderstandings.

Some employers will recognize the difference between a withheld adjudication and a conviction. Others may not be familiar with the concept. Employers may think you lied to them if you didn’t disclose the situation. Since this edge case can confuse employers, it’s better to err on the side of caution. With their appearance in a background check, you should discuss these charges if there is no local ban the box law.

Does expungement or sealing records impact these cases?

Yes. In some states, completion of pre-trial diversion means the complete dismissal of the charge. In other states, the adjudication status automatically goes under seal. Other states may offer an expungement process. Following the court agreement, you can generally remove withheld adjudications from one’s record. You may need to petition the court for a withholding to be sealed or expunged.

Approaching the hiring process as an applicant

Honesty is usually the best policy with employers. Employers can’t check your background in “ban the box” jurisdictions until they make a conditional job offer. Usually, this means going through the rest of the screening and consideration process first. Demonstrating suitability before discussing criminal records can give you a better chance of securing the job. You may also wish to disclose anyway. Explaining your agreement with the court can work in your favor, but not with every employer.

If no “ban the box” law is in place, you may need to discuss your charges sooner. Again, err on the side of caution when answering application questions. Since withheld judgments still appear on background checks, the employer will learn of it one way or another. Getting ahead of this information with a candid explanation can help your chances.

What employers should consider about adjudication withheld statuses

Can an employer take adverse action against a job applicant with a withheld adjudication? Yes, but businesses should be cautious. You will still need to provide the FCRA-required adverse action notice. You should be able to justify, if needed, why you made the decision. For example, if the crime in question had a substantial relationship to the job, you can more easily dismiss an applicant. Be wary, though. Because these aren’t convictions, some applicants may claim discrimination.

Find out more about what’s in your background report

Can you get a job with a withheld adjudication? Yes. It’s not necessarily a permanent barrier. The process may be a bit more challenging than if you had no record at all, though. Since these charges aren’t yet convictions, some employers may not know how to interpret background check results. Providing context based on your situation could be important. Especially if you’re close to completing your program, you should demonstrate to employers that the judgment won’t impact your ability to work.

Though adjudication withheld can cause confusion, it is ultimately a simple concept. It’s not yet a conviction—but it could become one. Know what that means for your job prospects. Not sure what employers will see when they order your background check? Seeing what’s in your report ahead of time can help you prepare. At, we make it easy to order your own criminal history report. Do so today to understand what shows up and what you may need to disclose to employers.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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