The Georgia First Offender ActWritten on October 31, 2013
Everyone probably has a time or two in their life where they’ve made a regrettable mistake. Some aren’t very serious, but others could affect your future, having a major impact on the rest of your life. An individual’s teen and college years should be some of the best years of their life. However, being responsible isn’t always the first thing on a young adult’s mind when they’re caught up in the moment. Fortunately, if a young person does make a major mistake that could damage their future and possibly keep them from getting their dream job or even start a career, the Georgia First Offender Act (O.C.G.A. 42-8-60) is a helpful tool that is very beneficial under the right circumstances.
To make things clear, the Georgia First Offender Act does not keep you from being sentenced to punishment or keep you out of jail. You WILL go to jail if the judge makes that part of your sentence.
Here’s how it works:
- Upon sentencing (a plea of Nolo Contendere or guilty), you or your attorney MUST let the judge know that you want to be sentenced under the Georgia First Offender Act. YOU DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY GET THIS and you have no right to appeal the judge’s decision if he or she denies you this privilege.
- You get sentenced.
- Upon completion of your sentence (probation, jail time, etc…), your conviction is sealed from your criminal history report. Some crimes are exempt, such as serious felonies like certain violent crimes and sexual or abuse crimes. DUIs are exempt as well. Also, jobs such as teaching, childcare and elderly care are also exempt from the First Offender Act.
- The judge will certify the order of discharge and send it to the clerk’s office, where it’s filed and sealed from your criminal history report (www.gjp.org). This MUST be done to complete the process. If your conviction is showing, then you need to act immediately to make sure this is done.
A common misconception of the First Offender Act is that it’s erased from your record. Just because future employers can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s completely gone. It can still be seen by law enforcement and for other purposes involving criminal justice. You do not have to report the discharge to employers since the conviction is sealed but you still have to report any arrests if asked.
Consider the following example: Johnny is a college kid with a bright future ahead of him. He’s 21, on the Dean’s List at his university and is scheduled to graduate in 4 years, right on schedule. He has a lot going for him. What could possibly go wrong? Well, Johnny goes out one night after finals and has a few too many drinks at the bar and he winds up instigating a fight, and getting arrested for simple battery. He pleads guilty. He didn’t have much of a defense because security cameras caught everything. Not the worst case scenario, but a violent crime nonetheless. Luckily for him, charges were not pressed and the judge also agrees to sentence him under the Georgia First Offender Act. Johnny learns his lesson, and life goes on. If Johnny did not have proper representation by an attorney with the knowledge of the First Offender Act, the outcome of his case could have affected his life for many years down the road.
Reference: Georgia Justice Project. www.gjp.org