Florida Gov. Jeb Bush yesterday signed legislation that tightens “withholds of adjudication” that have enabled hundreds of thousands of lawbreakers to avoid felony convictions — some as many as five times, reports the Miami Herald. The new law restricts judges’ ability to grant the withholds, which keep felony convictions off a defendant’s record even when the accused admits committing a crime.
Bush said, “It’s appropriate to give courts the authority to withhold adjudication for some nonviolent, first-time offenders, but it is simply not right to provide repeat offenders the opportunity to avoid the consequences of their crimes, especially those who have committed dangerous or violent crimes.”
A Herald series in January detailed how withholds evolved from being a rarely used plea deal granted mostly to first-time defendants to a commonly awarded break for thousands of child abusers, sex offenders, repeat criminals, and others who are violent offenders.
“The legislation will instill a good measure of accountability and reform without taking judicial discretion away,” said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, the bill’s author. “It simply establishes some guidelines.”
Under the new law:
• A person charged with any capital, life, or first-degree offense — such as murder, rape, or drug trafficking — cannot not get a withhold.
• Offenders charged with second-degree crimes — such as battery, assault or robbery — cannot get the break unless the prosecutor requests it in writing or the judge issues a written finding.
• If a withhold is awarded to someone charged with a second-degree crime, the person cannot get the break again.
• Judges can still give withholds to those charged with third-degree felonies — such as drug possession or theft — but only if they have not received two or more withholds.
• Third-degree felony offenders could land a second withhold, but only if it is requested in writing by the prosecutor or if the judge issues a written finding.