If you are applying for a job, you may be asked on the application to disclose whether you have ever been convicted of a crime. Employers then verify this information with a background check. It is widely stated lying in this situation is the worst thing a job applicant can do. However, if you have a record that includes an adjudication withheld rather than a standard criminal conviction, you may be unsure whether you are obligated to report that information.
When a judge withholds an adjudication, it means the court is not formally finding the defendant guilty. As such, there is no formal criminal conviction. Instead, the judge “withholds adjudication” (“adjudication” in this context means “conviction”), usually taking into consideration an agreement that requires the defendant to complete a diversion program. If the defendant meets the terms of this agreement satisfactorily, the charge will be dismissed. If he or she doesn’t, the case is revisited, and the judge may make a more formal ruling.
An adjudication withheld is a case that is temporarily on hold. The case has not been dismissed, but it also has not led to a conviction or a finding of guilt. Instead, the case is in limbo while the defendant completes the requirements of his or her agreement. Such requirements might include probation, community service, rehabilitation, or a class or educational requirement.
In the simplest of terms, an adjudication withheld is not a conviction. If you are asked whether you have ever been convicted of a crime and the only criminal activity on your record is an adjudication withheld, you can accurately answer, “No.” If you are asked specifically whether you have ever had some type of withheld or deferred adjudication, you would have to answer, “Yes.”
Keep in mind a withheld adjudication can and will still come up on your background check. While some employers will recognize the difference between a conviction and an adjudication withheld, others will not be familiar with the terminology and will just see the crime with which you were charged. Some employers may feel you were dishonest with them by saying you had never been convicted of a crime, even if you were technically telling the truth.
For these reasons, it is sometimes wise to be upfront if you have a withheld adjudication on your record. You can still check “No” when asked about convictions, but you might include a note explaining your charge and the agreement you have with the court. This explanation will help the employer see the nuance in your situation and understand what you are doing to avoid a conviction. The employer may also be so impressed with your candidness that you score extra points rather than hurting your hiring chances.