Today, there are many people living in Georgia who avoided a felony conviction by successfully completing their sentence under Georgia’s First Offender Act.
They were given a “second chance” by the courts.
Under the First Offender Act, a criminal defendant who has not previously been convicted of a felony may plead guilty and be sentenced by the court. While most of these sentences involve probation, a person can actually go to prison and still avail himself of First Offender treatment if the judge is convinced that First Offender is appropriate.
Upon completion of the sentence, the defendant “shall be discharged without court adjudication of guilt.” This means no conviction.
However, many people over the years, who were eligible for first offender treatment, were not informed of such when their case resolved.
Thus, their lives changed forever as a convicted felon. Lost job opportunities, the right to possess a firearm, voting rights and the stigma associated with being a felon are just some of the burdens a convicted felon lives with.
While it receives little attention, in 2015, Georgia passed a law to help these people obtain relief by allowing them to obtain First Offender protections retroactively.
O.C.G.A. 42-8-66 (d) provides:
The court may issue an order retroactively granting first offender treatment and discharge the defendant pursuant to this article if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was eligible for sentencing under the terms of this article at the time he or she was originally sentenced, and the ends of justice and the welfare of society are served by granting such petition.
Thus, upon approval of the court and the prosecutor, a defendant who would have been eligible for sentencing under the First Offender Act may receive First Offender treatment and have the Georgia Bureau of Investigation modify his or her criminal record.
However, the judge maintains discretion whether to grant such petitions on the basis that doing so would be in the best interest of the community.
These new provisions do not apply to serious violent felonies and certain crimes of moral turpitude, specifically, crimes involving children, the elderly and the disabled.
There are many Georgians who may take advantage of this new law. The ideal candidate would be a person who entered a plea to a non-violent felony in the past who was not informed by his or her lawyer about the availability of First Offender treatment.
By spreading the word about this little know law, you can help friends, family members, and others in our community.
Jason Swindle is a criminal-defense attorney and college professor in Carrollton.