Facing a criminal charge is distressing, especially if you are a first offender in Georgia. A criminal conviction will negatively impact all aspects of your life. Even a misdemeanor conviction can result in a jail sentence of up to one year. Thankfully, Georgia’s First Offender Act allows certain first-time criminal offenders to avoid a criminal conviction by completing certain requirements. If you’re interested in an alternative to living with a permanent criminal record, Georgia’s First Offender program may be a worthwhile option.
If you’re a Georgia first offender, it is imperative that you reach out to a skilled Atlanta criminal defense attorney. With years of experience behind him, former prosecutor Attorney Phil Pilgrim is experienced in helping Georgia First Offenders fight their criminal charges.
What is Georgia’s First Offender Act?
It’s a Friday night, and a group of college students gathers in the dorm living room to spend time together and watch the game on television. One of the students mentions that he is selling marijuana and asks if anybody wants some. A 19-year-old sophomore decides to purchase half of an ounce of marijuana. He stashes the cannabis in his backpack and forgets about it. Later, his roommate finds it and calls the police.
Historically, this 19-year-old would face criminal charges and a potential criminal record over his possession of a small amount of marijuana. Under Georgia’s First Offender Act, however, he would have an opportunity to seek a conditional discharge and avoid the destructive stigma that comes with having a criminal record. In Georgia, he may have another option.
Georgia’s First Offender Act (the Act) allows certain first-time offenders to avoid a criminal record by accepting a conditional discharge. The Georgia General Assembly enacted the First Offender law in 2015. The student in our example could seek to take part in the Act. If the judge allowed him to request a conditional discharge, he would serve one month’s probation or jail time along with meeting other requirements. If he completed his probation or time served, the judge would effectively seal his criminal record.
At the successful completion of the conditional discharge, the possession of marijuana charge would drop off of his record. In effect, he would no longer have any criminal record at the successful completion of the program. The Act allows those who have committed certain non-violent, first-time offenses a way to avoid the challenges associated with a criminal record.
Who Qualifies to Take Part in Georgia’s First Offender Act?
- To qualify, a Georgia resident must have a pending misdemeanor or felony case. The following conditions must also transpire to participate in the First Offender program:
- The charge is not related to pornography
- The charge is not associated with computer pornography or the sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means
- The charge is not a serious sexual offense
- The charge is not Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- The defendant has never received a felony conviction in any state
- The defendant has never undergone a First Offender sentence
- The defendant is not facing a charge for a serious crime committed against a police or law enforcement officer who is engaged in his official capacity
- The prosecution did not charge the defendant with a violent felony.
A First Offender must complete all of the terms of his probation. If the participant fails to meet the requirements of probation, a judge can end the probation. In this case, the defendant might face a conviction and may be required to serve the original sentence.
Some Participants in the First Offender Program May Still Have a Criminal Record
Typically, the criminal records of First Offender participants who complete the program will be officially sealed. If someone commits a serious violent or sexual offense, however, his or her record will remain available in some cases. If you are seeking employment with mentally disabled or elderly clients or with children, for example, your employer will be able to legally access all of your criminal records, including those sealed under the First Offender program.
The records of First Offenders will also be available for criminal justice or law enforcement purposes. If a participant subsequently commits another crime, the police and prosecutor’s office will have access to the First Offender criminal records. Indeed, people may only participate in the First Offender one time. If someone commits another crime, the program is not available to them. One of the most critical parts of the First Offender program is that you do not have to report your First Offender conviction to a potential employer. As long as you completed your sentence, you have no legal obligation to inform the prospective employer of the discharged First Offender crime. You will have to report your arrest, however, if a potential employer asks explicitly about arrests.
Is It Ever Wise to Not Participate In The First Offender Act Program?
It is important to note that a court will not automatically enroll you in the First Offender program. Instead, your criminal defense attorney must ask the judge to sentence you under the Act. If a judge denies the request, the decision cannot be appealed to a higher court.
You have one opportunity to ask the court to allow you to participate in the First Offender program. It is of great importance that you hire a skillful Atlanta criminal defense attorney if you are facing a first-time criminal offense.
Contact Our Atlanta Criminal Defense Attorney
The experienced Georgia First Time Offender attorneys at the law firm of Carter Pilgrim will advise you as to your best options. We put our extensive knowledge of the Georgia legal system to work when advising our clients of their best options.
For some, participating in the First Offender program may not be warranted. Our attorneys will carefully listen to your desires and goals, investigate your case, and analyze the best path forward based on their knowledge of Georgia’s criminal justice system.
If you are seeking to participate in the First Offender, it is crucial to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can persuasively argue your case before the judge. If you’re located in the Suwanee, Georgia area and are facing a criminal charge for the first time, contact our office today to set up a free consultation.