So, what are the benefits to a First Offender Plea?
There is a GOOD side and a BAD side to the First Offender Act. When you enter a plea of guilty or nolo contendre, you do not automatically have a conviction on your record. You are simply placed under sentence. If you successfully complete all the terms of your sentence as ordered by the Judge, you will never have a conviction for this offense. Upon successful completion of your sentence, your charges will be sealed and only those in government will be able to see them.
What’s the BAD side of a First Offender Plea?
It seems few people understand that the First Offender Act creates a potentially harsh penalty for failure. If you fail to successfully complete the terms of any sentence, a judge can revoke your probation and sentence you to time in prison. But, in most instances, the judge cannot sentence you to a period longer than your original sentence. Everyone needs to know, if you fail to successfully complete your First Offender probation, the judge can revoke your probation and sentence you up to the maximum of all the years you originally faced- not just the time your attorney negotiated for you.
For example, let’s say you’re facing a maximum of ten years in prison. Your attorney negotiates a 5-year sentence of probation for you under the First Offender Act. Let’s say you’ve successfully completed 2 years when you violate the terms of your probation. Unfortunately, if you are serving a first offender sentence, you’re actually facing 8 years in prison instead of 3. Why? Because the maximum possible sentence for your case was 10 years.
This is why we call the opportunities provided by the First Offender Act a double-edged sword. It can help you tremendously if you’re fully compliant with all the terms and conditions of your sentence. But, the potential negative consequences must be carefully considered before you agree to any sentence pursuant to the First Offender Act.
Finally, don’t fight your case alone
Finally, you cannot assume a First Offender plea will automatically be offered to you. Often times, a skilled attorney has to negotiate for a first offender disposition even when the client meets all the above criteria and has carefully decided a First Offender plea would be in his or her best interest.
For all of these reasons, you’ll likely need the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney. The Goad Law Firm has helped countless men and women facing their first criminal charge. Give us a call today 912-209-9000.