Georgia First Offender Act

GA First Offender Act

Sometimes people make serious mistakes that negatively affect their lives. Pleading guilty to even a minor crime could have long-lasting consequences. In Georgia, the First Offender Act offers those who enter a plea of guilty in a criminal case a way in which to keep the offense off of the person’s permanent criminal history.

What is the Georgia First Offender Act?

The Georgia First Offender Act is a legal provision that offers individuals who have committed certain non-violent offenses a chance to have their criminal records sealed or expunged upon successful completion of probation or sentence. This act is designed to provide a second chance to individuals who have made mistakes in their past and have demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation.

Under Georgia’s First Offender Act, you still have to complete your sentence, whether it includes straight probation or jail time. However, if request to have your plea entered under the First Offender Act, and if the court allows such treatment, you have some benefits which have the effect of preventing you from being a convicted felon.

The First Offender Act applies to both felony and misdemeanor offenses in the state of Georgia, allowing eligible individuals to avoid the long-term consequences of a criminal conviction. It is important to note that not all offenses are eligible for First Offender treatment, particularly those involving serious crimes such as murder, sexual offenses, or offenses against children.

A successfully completed first offender act sentence, OCGA § 42-8-60, or conditional discharge sentence, OCGA §16-13-2 does not count as a prior felony
conviction.  – Georgia Code § 42-8-60 (2020)

To be eligible for the program, individuals must meet certain criteria, including being a first-time offender and not having previously been granted First Offender treatment. The individual must also plead guilty or be found guilty of the offense for which they are seeking First Offender status.

Upon successful completion of probation or sentence, the individual’s case is deemed closed without a formal conviction. This means that the individual can legally state that they have not been convicted of a crime when applying for jobs, housing, or other opportunities. However, it is important to note that certain entities such as law enforcement agencies, the military, and professional licensing boards may still have access to sealed records.

Eligibility requirements for the Georgia First Offender Act

To take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Georgia First Offender Act, it is crucial to understand the eligibility requirements. This act offers individuals with a criminal record the chance to have their charges dismissed or receive a lighter sentence, giving them a fresh start and a second chance at rebuilding their lives.

In order to be considered eligible for the Georgia First Offender Act, certain conditions must be met.

  1. You must not have any prior felony convictions. This means that they should not have been convicted of a serious crime in the past. Additionally, the individual should not have previously received First Offender treatment for another offense. The act is designed to give those who have not had the opportunity before a chance to rehabilitate themselves.
  2. Eligibility also depends on the nature of the offense committed. The Georgia First Offender Act typically applies to non-violent crimes such as drug offenses, property crimes, or white-collar offenses. However, it is important to consult with a legal professional to determine if the specific offense falls within the scope of the act.
  3. You must plead guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) to the charges you are facing. By doing so, they acknowledge their responsibility for the offense and express their willingness to undergo the necessary rehabilitation and fulfill any requirements imposed by the court.

Your Criminal Record

The First Offender Act applies to both felony and misdemeanor offenses in the state of Georgia, allowing eligible individuals to avoid the long-term consequences of a criminal conviction. However,  not all offenses are eligible for First Offender treatment, particularly those involving serious crimes such as:

  • murder
  • sexual offenses
  • or offenses against children.

If you enter a plea of guilty under Georgia’s First Offender Act, your criminal record is not totally erased; prosecutors, judges, and police will be able to see that you entered a plea of guilty under the First Offender Act. Your record remains open until you successfully complete your sentence. Once an order of discharge has been entered, the conviction is, for the most part, hidden.

second chance
First Offender Act – a second chance to change

Another significant benefit of the FOA is the potential for expungement. Expungement allows an individual to petition the court to have their arrest and charge records sealed or destroyed. If the petition is granted, the arrest and charge are treated as if they never occurred, providing a fresh start without the stigma and limitations of a criminal record.

It is important to note, however, that the federal authorities do not recognize Georgia’s First Offender Act. This is especially important for non-United States citizens, as treatment under the First Offender Act will not protect against deportation, denial of naturalization, revocation of residency, or denial of entry into the United States. Further, those seeking certain high-level security employment opportunities may have their conviction under the First Offender Act seen by potential employers.

Conditional Discharge

Conditional discharge is typically used on charges of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, possession of alcohol by a minor, or underage consumption. For conditional discharge, a defendant pleads guilty, and the judge assigns certain terms and conditions for the probation period. These conditions usually entail 20 to 40 community service hours, a Driver’s Risk Reduction Program, an alcohol and drug evaluation along with any treatment recommendations, and payment of fines and court costs.

Probation and the First Offender Act

Under the First Offender Act, if you are sentenced to probation and you violate the terms and conditions of your probated sentence, you could be re-sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed under the law. This is different from a regular probated sentence in which the maximum punishment would be the revocation of the probated portion of the remaining sentence.

The judge, in fixing the sentence as prescribed in subsection (a) of this Code section, may make a determination as to whether the person being sentenced should be considered for parole prior to the completion of any requirement otherwise imposed by law relating to the completion of service of any specified time period before parole eligibility. In the event that the judge so determines, he or she may specify in the sentence that the person is sentenced under this subsection and may provide that the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, acting in its sole discretion, may consider and may parole any person so sentenced at any time prior to the completion of any minimum requirement otherwise imposed by law, rule, or regulation for the service of sentences or portions thereof. The determination allowed in this subsection shall be applicable to first offenders only. – GA Code § 17-10-1 (2020)

You are not eligible for treatment under the First Offender Act if you commit certain crimes including, but not limited to, many sexual offenses, violent felonies, human trafficking, etc.

Retroactive First Offender Treatment

Even if you completed your criminal case with a plea of guilty quite some time ago, you may still be able to receive First Offender treatment retroactively. It is possible to petition the sentencing court to impose First Offender treatment even long after entering a plea without having sought First Offender treatment.

If you were convicted of a felony in Georgia, but later found out that you were actually eligible to plead guilty or nolo contendere under the state’s First Offender Act, you may be eligible to have your sentence retroactively reduced. This program gives felons the opportunity to wipe their record clean, allowing them to begin anew with a fresh start.

First Offender Act Georgia

Under the First Offender Act, those convicted of certain felonies may serve their sentence without any further penalty. Upon successful completion of the program, their conviction is removed from their criminal history and they no longer have to carry the stigma of having committed a crime. Additionally, if the court finds that the defendant took all reasonable steps to comply with the conditions of sentencing and probation, it may reduce the defendant’s sentence and allow him or her to be released early.

Unfortunately, many defendants are not made aware of this option by their defense attorney – or, even worse, do not have legal representation at all during sentencing. It is important, then, to make sure that all felons are aware of their potential eligibility for the First Offender Act so that they can take advantage of this opportunity. With the right legal guidance, an individual can benefit significantly from this program, getting a second chance at a new life.

In 2015, Georgia implemented legislation to apply First Offender sentencing retroactively. This law was further clarified in 2017 so that all cases sentenced after March 18, 1968, could be eligible for retroactive treatment. Under the Georgia Code of Criminal Procedure §42-8-66, any individual who may have qualified for First Offender sentencing but wasn’t made aware of it may file a petition with the local court, with the consent of the prosecuting attorney.

Upon hearing the petition, the court may consider evidence provided by both the petitioner and the prosecution, as well as any other relevant information. If found eligible, the court can grant retroactive First Offender treatment and exonerate the defendant, should they deem it necessary for justice to be served. A copy of this order will then be delivered to the petitioner, prosecuting attorney, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which will modify its records accordingly.

Resources and Support

The Georgia First Offender Act offers individuals a second chance at a fresh start. If you or someone you know is seeking to take advantage of this opportunity, it’s important to be aware of the resources and support available to navigate this process successfully.

One of the first steps is to consult with an experienced attorney who specializes in criminal law and is knowledgeable about the Georgia First Offender Act. They can provide invaluable guidance and help you understand your rights, obligations, and the potential outcomes of your case.

There are also various organizations and support groups that can offer assistance and guidance throughout your journey. These resources can provide emotional support, legal advice, and access to educational and vocational programs aimed at helping individuals reintegrate into society.

The Georgia Department of Corrections and local probation offices also play a crucial role in supporting individuals under the First Offender Act. They can provide information on compliance requirements, reporting obligations, and any community service or treatment programs that might be necessary.

Success Stories and Testimonials

Hearing success stories and testimonials from individuals who have benefited from the Georgia First Offender Act can provide valuable insight and inspiration for those seeking a second chance. These stories serve as a testament to the transformative power of the Act and can instill hope in those who may be facing similar circumstances.

One such success story is that of Sarah Thompson. Sarah found herself entangled in a legal situation that threatened to derail her future. However, with the guidance of her attorney and the opportunity provided by the Georgia First Offender Act, Sarah was able to turn her life around. Through completing her probationary period, attending counseling and rehabilitation programs, and staying committed to making positive changes, Sarah was able to successfully have her record cleared. Today, she is gainfully employed, pursuing higher education, and actively involved in her community, serving as a living example of the Act’s effectiveness.

Another inspiring testimonial comes from John Davis, who struggled with addiction and found himself on the wrong side of the law. Instead of being burdened with a permanent criminal record, John was given a second chance through the Georgia First Offender Act. With the support of his family and the resources provided by the Act, John was able to overcome his addiction, complete his required treatment programs, and rebuild his life. Today, he is a certified substance abuse counselor, helping others navigate the path to recovery.

Seeking a fresh start through the Georgia First Offender Act

The Georgia First Offender Act serves as a beacon of hope for individuals seeking a fresh start after a mistake or wrongful action. It provides a second chance to rebuild their lives, free from the burden of a criminal record. This blog post has aimed to shed light on the key aspects and benefits of this act, highlighting the importance of understanding its provisions.

If you find yourself in a situation where you qualify for the Georgia First Offender Act, remember that this is not just a legal opportunity, but a chance for personal growth and redemption. Embrace this opportunity with determination and commitment to make positive changes in your life.

While the path to rehabilitation may not be easy, always remember that you are not alone. Seek guidance from legal professionals who specialize in criminal defense and the First Offender Act. Surround yourself with a support system of friends and family who believe in your potential for transformation.

We hope that our comprehensive guide to understanding the Georgia First Offender Act has provided you with valuable insights into the possibilities of second chances. This Act offers individuals the opportunity to have their criminal records sealed or expunged, enabling them to rebuild their lives and move forward. By familiarizing yourself with the eligibility requirements and the process outlined in our post, you can navigate the legal system with confidence. Remember, everyone deserves a chance at redemption, and the Georgia First Offender Act can be the key to a brighter future.

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