What is a withheld judgment in Idaho?
A withheld judgment is a sentencing option for Idaho trial courts in criminal cases. If the trial court determines that someone is a good candidate for a withheld judgment, the court at sentencing may withhold pronouncing a sentence (or judgment) for the conviction and place the defendant on probation.[i] Should the person who receives the withheld judgment serve that term of probation without violating its terms, they are then generally permitted to withdraw their plea or have their conviction set aside once probation is completed and the case will then be dismissed.
Does a withheld judgment count as a conviction before a person completes probation and can set aside their conviction?
Yes. Unfortunately, in United States vs. Sharp, the Idaho Supreme Court determined that a withheld judgment still counts as a conviction unless and until the trial court grants relief following probation.[ii] While Idaho statutes and case law refer to criminal judgments as “judgments of conviction,” the Idaho Supreme Court has also held that the judgment and the conviction for an offense are two separate things. So, unless and until a trial court grants a person relief by permitting them to withdraw their plea or setting aside the conviction, the offense still counts as a conviction under the law.
What is the benefit of receiving a withheld judgment?
The main benefit of a withheld judgment comes at the end of a period of probation if there aren't any probation violations that are found by the trial court. If that occurs, then the person with the withheld judgment can file a motion with the court to have his or her plea withdrawn, or their conviction set aside.[iii] The intention of this is to, “spare the defendant, particularly a first time offender, ‘the burden of a criminal record.'”[iv] For most purposes, this means that the person getting the benefit of the withheld judgment will not be considered as having a criminal conviction for that offense. That being said, it does not mean that “all records of the defendant's criminal acts vanish.”[v] Unless a trial court seals the underlying court file, the records of the proceedings remain public records. And even a conviction that has been set aside following entry of a withheld judgment can still count as a conviction in certain circumstances.
Are there any risks to receiving a withheld judgment?
Yes. There are two primary risks, both of which may result if the trial court finds that a person who initially received a withheld judgment later violated his or her probation. First, if the court finds that such a defendant violated the terms of his or her probation and decides to revoke that probation, the trial court can impose any sentence that could originally have been imposed at the time of conviction.[vi] For those who are on probation from a judgment of conviction, the trial court can only impose those terms that were previously suspended in the original judgment, and cannot increase those terms.[vii] The Idaho Supreme Court has noted that this, “may potentially leave a defendant with a withheld judgment in a worse position” than someone who was placed on probation from a judgment of conviction.[viii]
Second, if the trial court finds that a person with a withheld judgment has violated his or her probation, and revokes the withheld judgment as a result, then the overall period of probation can be extended for a longer period of time. Normally, the maximum term for any probation cannot be longer than the maximum length of time that a person can be sentenced for an offense if the conviction was for a felony; for misdemeanors, this maximum term is generally capped at two (2) years.[ix] If the trial court continues a defendant on probation after finding a probation violation, the total period of probation (both the time on probation before the violation and the time after) cannot last longer than this statutory maximum length of time.
However, when the trial court revokes a withheld judgment, imposes a sentence, and then suspends that sentence to put someone on probation, that is considered a new probation. This means that the trial court can impose the full length of time permitted by statute for this new probation, regardless of how long the defendant had previously been on probation under the withheld judgment.[x] In other words, it is possible for the duration of probation to be nearly twice as long if a person receives a withheld judgment.
When does a conviction that has been set aside following a withheld judgment still count as a conviction?
The most common situation in which a conviction that has been set aside still legally counts as a conviction is for enhancements to a charge of driving under the influence based on prior convictions for that offense.[xi] There are other statutes that also treat withheld judgments as convictions as well.[xii] The key statutory language that triggers whether a dismissed conviction would still be treated as a conviction is the inclusion of the phrase, “notwithstanding the form of the judgment or withheld judgment.” If a statute contains this, or similar, language, then the conviction would still count under the statute even after it has been dismissed pursuant to a withheld judgment.
Can you get more than one withheld judgment?
There are no statutes or court rules that limit how many withheld judgments a person can receive, but there is a misdemeanor court rule that provides that a person cannot get a second or subsequent withheld judgment unless the trial court finds that there are extraordinary circumstances and makes specific findings as to what factors that the court considered in reaching this decision.[xiii] This makes it fairly difficult for a person to receive two withheld judgments for misdemeanor offenses. Because of this, it may be worth taking into account whether you want to seek a withheld judgment for a relatively minor misdemeanor offense, given that—for most people—they will likely only get one opportunity to receive a withheld judgment for misdemeanor charges.
[i] Idaho Code § 19-2601.
[ii] U.S. v. Sharp, 145 Idaho 403 (2008).
[iii] Idaho Code § 19-2604.
[iv] State v. Olsen, 170 Idaho 176 (2022).
[vi] Idaho Code § 20-222.
[vii] Idaho Code § 19-2603.
[viii] Olsen, 170 Idaho at p. 184.
[ix] Idaho Code § 19-2601(7).
[x] See State v. Gallipeau, 128 Idaho 1 (Ct. App. 1994).
[xi] State v. Glenn, 156 Idaho 22 (2013).
[xii] See, e.g., Idaho Code §§ 18-918 (domestic violence enhancements); 18-5702 (disqualification from public office for those convicted of misuse of public funds); 18-7905 (First Degree Stalking); 18-8304 (sex offender registration requirements); 19-5506 (DNA testing and fingerprinting of people convicted of felony offenses); 33-1208 (denial or revocation of teaching certificate for certain felonies). For each of these statutes, and several others, the legislature has included language that the penalty applies regardless of/notwithstanding “the form of the judgment or withheld judgment.” This language in a statute has been held to mean that even a conviction dismissed as a result of a withheld judgment still counts as a conviction for purposes of that statute.
[xiii] Idaho Misdemeanor Criminal Rule 10.