The Georgia First Offender Act allows some first-time offenders to avoid a conviction. It is an alternative program that will enable you to steer clear of having a conviction on your record. This program can consist of fees, other programs, probation, and jail time. If the first-time offender completes all the terms of his or her specific First Offender Program, then they will not have a conviction and the charge will be sealed from his or her criminal history. However, if the defendant is arrested and convicted of a second crime, while on First Offender probation, the status will become a conviction. The act allows some defendants to plead “guilty” or “nolo contendere” to the charge, and the judge will withhold the adjudication of guilt. After successful completion of the program, the defendant will maintain all rights that would have been lost had there been a felony conviction.
According to Georgia Law
O.C.G.A. §42-8-60: Where a defendant has not been previously convicted of a felony, the court may, upon a verdict or plea of guilty or nolo contendere, and before adjudication of guilt, without entering a judgment of guilty and with the consent of the defendant, defer future proceedings and place the defendant on probation or sentence the defendant to a term of confinement.
Requirements for the Georgia First Offender Act
Never convicted of a felony in any state including Georgia
Cannot already have a first offender sentence
Cannot be charged with a serious violent felony
Cannot be charged with a serious sexual offense
Cannot be charged with a DUI
Cannot be charged with anything regarding child pornography
History of the Georgia First Offender Act
In 1968, Georgia legislature enacted the Georgia First Offender Act to give first-time offenders a second chance. The second opportunity was mostly aimed at employment. The act prohibited any employer (private or public) from withholding employment on the basis of a criminal offense if they successfully went through the First Offender program. Until recently, the act would only restrict the defender's record once all parts of the program were completed.
The Georgia First Offender Act Today
The Georgia First Offender Act was amended on July 1, 2016. To better help first-offenders, the act was changed to the record restriction occurring at the time of sentencing. Judges now have the authority to restrict the record at the time of the plea or after successful completion. Now first-time offenders can seek employment immediately while simultaneously completing their First Offender program requirements.
The Double-Edged Sword
There are many benefits to closing a case with a plea under the Georgia First Offender Act. The most important benefit is that upon completion of probation, a defendant can honestly answer that he has not been convicted of the crime for which he was being prosecuted. However, if the defendant violates the conditions of his sentence or the special or general conditions of his probation, then he will be adjudicated guilty.
In the event that a person is adjudicated guilty, he can be re-sentenced as if he has not already been under a sentence. Legally, he is entitled to credit for any time that he has already served, but other than that, he can be sentenced to any term of imprisonment under the law. As a result, accepting a sentence under the Georgia First Offender Act can result in a person facing a greater punishment than had he accepted his conviction from the very beginning.
Seek Legal Assistance Before Making a Decision:
The decision to enter a plea under the Georgia First Offender Act should not be made without first discussing your case with a qualified Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney. Your decision may have a life-time of consequences. We can help!
To utilize the Georgia First Offender Act in your case, you need a top-rated Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney who is familiar with the First Offender Act and the recent changes. Contact our offices today to speak to one of our Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers.