Monday, March 3, 2014

Georgia Law On A First Time Probation Offender

Violating first offender probation can result in a return to prison.

The Georgia criminal justice system provides a second chance to offenders who might be facing felony convictions for the first time. Under Georgia's First Offender Act, they may have their felony convictions erased so long as they successfully complete the terms of their probations. However, failing to successfully complete probation can result in a revocation of probation, sentencing to the maximum allowable term in prison and the conviction placed on the offender's record.

Probation Is a Way Out of Jail

Probation occurs when an offender is convicted of a crime, but the court chooses to release the offender back into the community rather than sentence him to prison or to a full prison term. While on probation, the offender remains under the supervision of the court for a period of time and must comply with certain conditions, such as meeting with a probation officer at regular intervals, not possessing a firearm or abusing drugs, and participation in community service.

Second Chance in Georgia

Georgia's First Offender Act provides a second chance for certain persons convicted of a felony in the state. Offenders sentenced under the Act who successfully complete probation do not have felony convictions on their criminal records. To be eligible for the program, an offender cannot have a previous felony conviction in Georgia or any other state, or have been sentenced as a first offender in the past. Also, the crime cannot be a serious, violent felony or serious sexual offense. It cannot relate to computer pornography, child pornography or electronic sexual exploitation of a minor. Further, the offense cannot be a DUI or a crime committed against a law enforcement officer. Enrollment in the first offender program is not automatic; the defendant or his attorney must request it before a guilty plea or sentence is entered -- and the judge must agree.

Failure to Comply Brings Serious Consequences

Once an offender is approved for, and sentenced under, the First Offender Act, he must comply with the conditions of his probation. Failure to do so may result in revocation of probation and reinstatement of his sentence. Unlike the treatment of violations under the traditional probation system, first offenders can be imprisoned up to the maximum time allowed for their crimes, rather than the balance of time remaining on their sentences. For example, if the maximum sentence for a particular felony is 15 years, a first offender who violates his probation can be sentenced to the full 15 years, even if he successfully completed 10 years of probation. By contrast, if the offender violated traditional probation, he could only receive up to the 5 remaining years on his sentence. Additionally, the felony conviction is entered on his criminal record.

Practical Long-Term Results

Successfully completing probation under the first offender program means an offender can honestly say he has not been convicted of a felony. A felony conviction will not show up on his criminal record because it was never entered, and upon receiving an order of discharge from the court, the original felony charge is also sealed from his criminal record. However, courts are not required to restrict first offender records; thus, private citizens may still obtain them. In turn, a first offender's case may show up in private background checks and through other unofficial channels.

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