When is a judgment against you in a criminal case not a judgment against you? When it's a withheld judgment. But, like Santa, the court is likely to be checking the list and watching to see if you are nice before that judgment disappears from your record.
A Withheld Judgment
Think of a withheld judgment as a lucky break, because you aren't likely to get one twice in your life. Let's say you get arrested and convicted on a relatively minor offense, like driving under the influence. If you don't have a criminal history, the judge may enter a withheld judgment in the matter, rather than a judgment of conviction. Usually this happens only once so the court won't enter a withheld judgment if you've ever been given one before.
What actually happens? Even with a withheld judgment, the judge can impose jail time, fines, court costs, and can suspend your driving privileges. However, with a withheld judgment, a judge can suspend the driver's license suspension as well as the jail sentence, resulting in no suspension of your license or jail. The court also assigns you a period of probation with conditions. If you successfully complete the probation, the judgment is dismissed and no judgment of conviction is entered. It is almost as if you had never been convicted of the crime.
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Unfortunately, it's almost as if you were never convicted, but not quite. The arrest, entry of your plea and decision in the case will be public record and the withheld judgment doesn't erase it. Anyone who knows how to do a search of public records – like a potential employer – will be able to find the case. They will see that the judgment was dismissed after a withheld judgment.
Because of that, experts recommend that you spill the beans if you are asked questions about your criminal history. It's better to explain what happened than to have the person think you are lying or hiding something. On the other hand, it can save you some automobile insurance money. A withheld judgment on a DUI can help you get a lower insurance rate than if you are convicted of a DUI.
A withheld judgment is a type of sentence the judge can impose for a criminal conviction. You have to serve a time of probation and may have other conditions, but if you fulfill them, the judgment is not entered on your record.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.