When charged with your first offense in Georgia, you may be able to take advantage of Georgia’s First Offender Program. It is not a substitute for punishment because you will still have conditions to meet, but it is an alternative to a conviction. If you qualify for first offender treatment, your sentence may include jail time, probation, or both.
O.C.G.A. §42-8-6 states “upon a verdict or plea of guilty or nolo contendere, but before an adjudication of guilt, the court may, in the case of a defendant who has not been previously convicted of a felony, without entering a judgment of guilt and with the consent of the defendant, defer further proceeding and place the defendant on probation as a first offender.”
In sum, the first offender act allows for those accused of a crime to go on probation and avoid a criminal conviction. All of the requirements of the probation must be met for the charges to be dismissed. If the probation is not successfully completed, by violating the general or special conditions of your sentence, then the first offender sentence will be forfeited. The result will be your adjudication of guilt and a permanent criminal record.
Who is Eligible?
You could be eligible to receive First Offender Status if you:
- Have never been convicted of a felony in any state;
- Have never been sentenced as a first offender before;
- Have not been charged with driving under the influence;
- Have not been charged with aggravated assault, aggravated battery, or another serious violent felony;
- Have not been charged with a serious sexual offense or one related to child pornography.
Do You Automatically Qualify to be Sentenced Under the First Offender Act?
The short answer is no. Your attorney can request for you to be sentenced under the First Offender Act, and the judge will decide whether to allow it. However, the judge cannot force a person to accept a sentence under the first offender act; the accused must first request to be sentenced under the act before a judge may consider it.
How Does the First Offender Act Affect Future Employment?
If you complete your sentence under the First Offender Act, then you have not been convicted of the crime. Furthermore, if asked about convictions, you can honestly answer that you have not been convicted. However, in some circumstances, if you are asked about prior arrest, you may have to reveal the arrest.
For most purposes, a person who has successfully completed their sentence has their full civil rights restored (the right to vote and own a firearm).
The Negative Side of Being Sentenced Under the First Offender Act:
Like most things, there is a negative side to first offender treatment. When a person violates ordinary probation, they risk having their probation revoked. That means they can be sent to prison for the remainder of their sentence.
When a person violates their first offender probation, they can be re-sentenced as if the case is starting anew. As a result, they may risk a longer sentence, as long as they are given credit for any time in custody already served.
If you believe that you qualify for first offender treatment, contact our office today. Our Georgia Criminal Defense Attorneys can assist you in presenting your case to the judge and arguing why you would be a good candidate. Do not try to do this on your own and risk a conviction being on your record. Our office has over 50 years of Georgia criminal defense experience. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
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