The First Offender Act (the “Act”) is a Georgia statute that gives first time offenders a second chance. By “first offender,” the Act means just that: People who have committed a criminal offense for the first time. Basically, the Act makes the legal ramifications for the commission of certain crimes less severe for people who committed their first offense.
There are two ways the Act can help a first time offender: (1) You receive probation and/or confinement and (2) your record is sealed. If sentenced under the Act, you are not convicted, which is really important. Because you are not convicted, if you complete your probation or confinement, then the case is “discharged” (which means it is gotten rid of) and, in addition, your criminal records are sealed. The next section will further break down why this is beneficial.
What Does the Act Do?
The Act gives first time offenders some legal recourse during the process of being criminally prosecuted. It is designed to help people who made a mistake, and shouldn’t be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Some might even call it a “second chance” law because it helps ensure that those who merely committed a crime for the first time do not face the massively life-altering and disruptive consequences of a criminal conviction.
Before getting into the details of the law, let’s back up a step and break this down a bit more. First, you might be arrested by a police officer and be facing criminal charges. The prosecution (the government) will bring a case against you and the judge will decide, based on the law, what to do. What the First Offender Act does is provide you, your attorney, and judge with another option than prosecuting and convicting you. So, if this is your first time committing a criminal act and being prosecuted, then you might be eligible for a few protections, as described below.
Probation or Confinement
The first protection is that the judge can decide to put you on probation or confinement instead of potentially entering a judgment of guilty (which means you have been found guilty or admitted guilt to a criminal act). The judge can also sentence you to a period of confinement, which means jail time. While the Act allows a judge the option of just probation, the judge can, under their discretion, also order you to a period of confinement if she sees fit.
The judge can also order the normal parts of criminal justice proceedings, like community service or restitution (paying the victim of the crime). In addition, if you commit another crime during that probationary period, as usual, the court may find you guilty at that point. While not the most important protection the Act offers, the possibility of just getting probation is a big benefit.
As long as you successfully complete probation and/or your period of confinement, the second positive element of the Act is that it allows you to have your criminal record sealed. While facing prison or jail time—and fees and fines as well—is a stressful and intimidating part of criminal proceedings, there is also the resulting criminal record that comes along with being convicted. It can make it much harder to live your life, such as applying for jobs in some places. However, that’s where the Act comes in: It allows the court to seal this record, which means it will not be a part of your official criminal history report. While the records are still available to law enforcement and the courts, they will not stand in your way of living your life outside of the criminal justice system.
Last, you are not entitled to use this resource more than once, which means that it’s a one-time protection: Once you use the Act as a first time offender, you will not be able to use it again because, even if you did not receive a conviction the first time around, you are not a first time offender anymore.
Are Some Crimes Ineligible?
You may be wondering if there are certain criminal acts that are just too serious for this Act to apply, and you’d be right. Basically, there are a number of specific criminal actions that the Georgia legislature thought were sufficiently detrimental to society that, even if it was your first time committing one of these, you will not be eligible to use the protections of the Act and take probation instead of being convicted.
These include: A serious violent felony, a sexual offense, sexual exploitation of a minor, electronically furnishing obscene material to a minor, or computer pornography and child exploitation. As is clear, most of these deal with sexual assault and crimes that involve minors, especially in terms of child pornography and exploitation. However, the list also includes a “serious violent felony,” which is a bit more ambiguous. A serious violent felony includes what you might think it includes: Murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and rape, among others.
In summary, if your first time offense is one of these more serious criminal acts—like rape, murder, or a sexual offense—then it is highly unlikely that the Act’s protections will be available for you to use.
How Do I Use this Option and Exercise my Rights Under the Act?
The Act does not apply automatically. You need to bring it up to the court, which means that, first, you and your attorney must consult on whether this is the right course of action for you and your case. Your attorney will then ask for you to be sentenced under the First Time Offender Act. The judge will then decide if the Act applies and that you can indeed be sentenced under it. If the judge says you cannot be sentenced under it, you cannot appeal this decision. Moreover, the Act might not be the best fit for your case. That’s why having an experienced and knowledgeable attorney with you is your best bet for getting the best result.
Getting an Attorney that Will Fight For You
The Phillips Law Firm will fight for you. This means using our legal know-how and experience to zealously advocate for you in the court of law. If you’re a first time offender, stressed-out and worried that the resulting criminal proceedings will ruin your life, that’s where we come in. We will explore all options, including the First Offender Act, in doing all we can to reduce the impact of your criminal case.
We believe that making mistakes is part of life, and we will fight to make sure this mistake doesn’t take over your life. We’re here to fight for you. Give us a call today to get started, and to get your life back on track.