The Georgia First Offender sentencing option can help clients avoid a felony conviction, but it is not always available in all cases or to all clients.
Are you accused of being a first-time offender in Cobb, Cherokee, Dekalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, or Paulding county? Are you due for court in Marietta, Canton, Decatur, Cumming, Atlanta, Lawrenceville, Gainesville, or Dallas? If so, you should not delay in hiring an attorney to represent you. Click here to learn more about our firm.
Many of our clients have never been arrested before. But, this one mistake can land them in a heap of trouble with the law. A mistake in judgment does not mean you need to go to jail and prison. A mistake in judgment does not mean that you should be punished for the rest of your life by being branded a convicted felon. Click here to learn more about sentencing.
In Georgia, if you have never been convicted of a felony and never sentenced as a First Offender before, you might be eligible to be sentenced as a First Offender.
Following a guilty verdict or guilty plea, the court may defer further proceedings and place you on probation as a First Offender without entering a judgment of guilt against you. Put another way, you plea guilty and the court accepts your plea, but does not find you guilty. Instead, the court puts you on probation without finding you guilty.
If you successfully complete the terms of the First Offender sentence, your case is discharged without a conviciton and your arrest record can be partially sealed. Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) must receive official notification that you have successfully completed the First Offender requirements. The record is not automatically sealed based on the elapse of the probation sentence. In fact, I have had clients where their FO convictions show up many years later because someone in the clerk's office just hadn't sent the paperwork to the GBI.
If you are arrested and convicted of another offense while still on First Offender probation, Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 42-8-65(b)) requires GCIC to change your First Offender sentence to a conviction. You will then be a convicted felon for the rest of your life.
In other words, if you successfully complete First Offender sentencing, you are never found guilty and will not be a convicted felon. If you fail to successfully complete First Offender sentencing, you can be brought back to court, found guilty of the charges to which you have already pled guilty, and sentenced. Your sentence will not be limited by the length of the original probation. Rather, you can be sentenced up to the maximum, giving you credit only for the time you successfully served on probation.
- Who can use First Offender?
- First Offender is available to most clients who have never used it before and who has never been convicted of a felony. Some serious felonies charges and DUI's are not eligible for First Offender sentencing.
- Is First Offender a right?
- No. Even those who qualify for First Offender and ask for it are not guaranteed to get it. Your attorney must be prepared to argue to the sentencing court why you should be sentenced under the First Offender Act. Judges have wide discretion in deciding who does and does not get sentenced as a First Offender.
- Is First Offender always the right thing to do when available?
- No. Every case and client are different. There are several reasons why one may not want to use First Offender in their case, even when it is available.
- Can I use First Offender in multiple counties?
- No. You can use First Offender ONE time in Georgia, and it must be before any other felony conviction.
- What if my prior conviction is from another state?
- ANY prior felony conviciton from any state will disqualify you for First Offender in Georgia.
- Can I possess firearms after a First Offender plea?
- Yes and no. You can not possess firearms while on First Offender probation. Once you successfully complete First Offender and are not a convicted felon nor on probation, you can possess firearms again.
- Will a First Offender plea avoid deportation if I am not a US Citizen?
- The United States considers a Georgia First Offender plea a felony conviction for immigration purposes, meaning it can result in deportation. In other words, pleading under the First Offender Act does not help at all for immigration purposes.
- What will violate First Offender?
- Technically, ANYTHING can violate First Offender (including traffic offenses like speeding) but I've never seen one violated for anything less than a DUI. It can happen and probably has happened, but it is rare.
- What happens if I violate my First Offender probation?
- Violating First Offender probation is worse than violating standard probation. With standard probation, the court can not revoke more than the client originally agreed to in their plea. With First Offender, the court can increase the length of the sentence. For people who are unlikely to successfully complete the terms of their probation, they may be better off in the long run with a reguar felony plea.
- If I am successful, is my record expunged?
- Not entirely. The arrest and discharge will likely remain visible to some potential employers. The government can always see your entire criminal history for purposes of employement or background checks. Private employers may be able to see your First Offender plea if they do a thorough background check. Also, special disclosure rules can apply if you are an applicant for a job dealing with children, the elderly, or law enforcement. It is nearly impossible to fully expunge anything. The bottom line, though, is that you are not a convicted felon.
- How can I learn more about First Offender?