Many employers require job applicants to answer background questions on a job application to determine whether the applicant has a criminal history. Some employers will then follow up by conducting a criminal background check on the applicant. While some questions can be answered easily, others may cause the applicant confusion. For a job applicant who has had an adjudication withheld, answering a question about previous criminal convictions can be particularly troublesome because the definition of the term "adjudication withheld" is not universal.
The meaning of the term "adjudication withheld" can vary from one jurisdiction to another. In most cases, however, when a judge withholds adjudication it means the court does not formally enter a finding of guilt. Often, a person who has been charged with an infraction or crime is allowed to enter into an agreement whereby she performs certain conditions, such as community service work or attendance in a class, or completes a term of probation, after which the charge is dismissed if she successfully completes the conditions or probation. During the time allotted by the court to complete the conditions or probation, the case is essentially "on hold," meaning no finding of guilt has been entered. Typically, the court has the power to resume prosecution of the infraction or crime in the event the defendant does not successfully complete the conditions or probation, which can result in a finding of guilt at that time.
Questions Relating to Convictions
Questions on a job application regarding an applicant's criminal history can be worded in a variety of ways. If the question is whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime, in most cases the applicant can honestly answer "no" when adjudication has been withheld in jurisdictions where the defendant has not been convicted of anything. This assumes he completes the requirements of the agreement to withhold adjudication.
Questions That Specifically Ask About Adjudication Withheld
In some cases, the question will be more specific and will ask whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime or had an adjudication withheld. If the question specifically asks about withheld adjudication, the applicant must answer yes. In some jurisdictions, the term "deferred adjudication" is equivalent to "adjudication withheld" and may also require the applicant to answer in the affirmative.
Before answering a question that relates to a withheld adjudication, a job applicant should be very clear about what that term means in the jurisdiction where she was charged. While the term commonly indicates that the defendant was never found guilty, that is not a universal rule. Prior to completing a job application, anyone who has entered into an agreement that withheld adjudication or deferred adjudication should check with her attorney to be certain she was never found guilty.