It is intended to be a one-time break, but thousands of Florida criminals have adjudication withheld again and again–convictions wiped clean two, three, four, even five times, says the Miami Herald in the third of a four-part series.
Given a free pass on a first crime, many break the law again while piling up more “withholds.” The Herald found more than 67,000 new crimes committed by offenders who had their first conviction forgiven. A Herald computer analysis of Florida felonies between 1993 and 2002 found 17,000 defendants who got the pass more than once.
Among the beneficiaries:
* A real estate agent caught red-handed four times breaking into Jeeps. He once broke into a Jeep while awaiting trial for breaking into another. He got four withholds in two years for Jeep break-ins. Record: no felony convictions.
* A man arrested five times on cocaine charges. The court pushed rehab after his three possession arrests. But then Clark graduated to drug dealing. Caught twice selling crack to undercover cops police, Clark worked the system again. Total: Five withholds in five years.
* A social worker and identity thief. He got nine credit cards using other people’s identities to charge $11,000; he used a stolen credit card to finance another shopping spree; He stalked and threatened an ex-girlfriend. All three charges were withheld.
“Withholds are not something you hand out randomly all the time,” said retired Miami-Dade Judge Gerald Wetherington, who now teachers law and ethics. “It’s like the carrot on the stick: generally, a one-time reward to keep someone honest.”
The percentage of felony offenders who have obtained more than one withhold quadrupled in the past decade. Ten years ago, 2 percent of withholds went to people who had already received one. In 2002, nearly 10 percent of withholds went to people who had already gotten one. Their crimes were serious: 2,700 thieves, 1,400 burglars, and 1,200 drug dealers got multiple withholds.