When you are arrested for the first time, you are likely to be overcome with a range of emotions like shock, frustration, confusion, and fear. While many of us go through life thinking we will never have to face the wrong end of the law, it can happen, leaving us bewildered. Below, we outline the options available to first-time offenders.
Common First-Time Offenses
First offenses are often non-violent, minor, and typically the result of poor decisions. Some of the most common first offenses include:
• Reckless conduct
• Simple battery/assault
• Drug possession
• Drug possession with intent to distribute or sell
• Reckless driving or racing
• Alcohol possession by a minor
The state takes these offenses seriously, but first-time offenders often don’t pose a threat as repeat-offenders. If you have been charged with one of these offenses or any other felony or misdemeanor, time is of the essence. Contacting a criminal defense attorney as early on as possible can increase your chances of a better outcome.
What Are Your Options as a First-Time Offender?
Depending on your case, there are several options available to first-time offenders, including:
• Intervention with prosecution prior to formal charges being filed. The aim is to emphasize your clean record and present any available supporting evidence that shows that you will not commit an offense again. Your attorney will go over the facts of your case and point out inadequacies which can help reduce or even dismiss your charges and have your conviction expunged.
• Pretrial diversion or pre-trial intervention – such programs are run by the local state attorney’s office and are often offered to first-time offenders who have been charged with a non-violent third-degree felony or a misdemeanor. Once you have completed the program, which may include enrollment in counseling, restitution, and community service, your charges will be dismissed.
• Plea bargaining – your attorney can emphasize your clean record to negotiate probation terms or withholding of adjudication in exchange for a plea of guilty.
• Drug court – you are eligible for the Adult Drug Court program if your non-drug-related or drug-related offense was motivated by an addiction and you can benefit from help. You will have to take part in a pretrial intervention program and undergo clinical assessment before entering drug court. If you successfully complete the program, your charges may be dismissed, and you may avoid a felony conviction.
As a first-time offender, you could have your charges withdrawn, dismissed, or reduced, but your record will still state a criminal arrest unless you can have it expunged.
The Federal First Offenders Act
This Act provides a probation program for first offenders. The Act specifies that in some non-violent cases of drug possession, you can complete a period of probation that will allow you to have your charges dismissed without being convicted. Your arrest and your case may also be expunged.
To avoid a criminal record and the penalties that come with conviction, you need to be eligible for the diversion program. To qualify, you must show that you:
• Have been found guilty of simple possession of a controlled substance
• Have not previously been accorded any such first offender treatment
• Have not previously been convicted of violating a state or federal law
What is Expungement?
If you are a first-time offender, you may be able to have your record sealed or expunged once your case is resolved. This means that your convictions will no longer be on the public record. The point of expunging a record for first-time offenders is to show that you have paid your debt for your crime and you can carry on as though the conviction never happened.
Misdemeanors and felonies other than minor misdemeanors or vehicle violations that don’t fall into certain categories can be expunged unless there is a criminal statute that states that a certain crime cannot be expunged. Typical expungable offenses include shoplifting and most kinds of theft, criminal mischief, vandalism, disorderly conduct, trespassing, and other non-violent crimes.
Even if your record is sealed, it can still be accessed by certain people and for certain reasons. For instance, if a potential employer asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime that could have an impact on the position you are interviewing for, you are compelled to acknowledge your expunged conviction.
Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you are a first-time offender, you will need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who will focus on seeking a reduction in your charges, pretrial diversion, dismissal, and expungement of your charges. The legal of team of Joffe Law, P.A. has more than 50 years of combined experience in the practice of law. Contact us today at 954-723-0007 to protect your rights and reputation.