The first thing that many clients ask me is whether or not they can use first offender status to resolve a case. They have usually heard from a friend or family member that this is a quick and easy way to resolve their case without pleading guilty. Using your first offender status means that once you complete your sentence successfully, you will not have a conviction and the records of the case will be sealed and will not appear on your criminal record.
Using Your First Offender Status
While using your first offender status is one option that may be available to you, in a lot of cases it is not the best way to resolve the case. There are several things that you should know before you rush to use this status:
1) You are only eligible to use your first offender status if you have never been convicted of a felony in any state and have not used your first offender previously. You can only use your first offender status once.
2) Not all crimes are first offender eligible. For example, you cannot use a first offender plea for a DUI or for other serious, violent crimes including any crime against a law enforcement officer.
3) You are not entitled to use your first offender status in any case unless you have the judge’s approval. A judge will refuse to accept a first offender plea if he or she feels that you are using it just to “keep your record clean.” In order to help my clients get approval for a first offender plea, I present evidence about my client’s personal life (i.e. education, family, etc.) to show the judge that my client is trying to move past a mistake and is not just doing it because it is an easy way out. This is crucial to having a judge approve a first offender plea.
4) If you violate the terms of your first offender sentence, you will lose your first offender status and be brought back before the judge for sentencing. First offender sentences should not be taken lightly. If a judge allows you to use it, he or she will expect you to fulfill all of the requirements. If you do not, and the judge has to re-sentence you, you will almost certainly face a much stiffer penalty— in many cases, the maximum sentence allowed.
5) There are other ways to resolve charges without having to use your first offender status. If you have a good criminal lawyer, he or she will often be able to work out a “pre-trial diversion” plan on many charges that will give you the same benefits of a first offender plea but will not formally use your first offender status. Because you only get one chance to use your first offender status, you should only use it when you absolutely must.
Before you use your first offender status, talk to a competent and aggressive criminal lawyer about whether or not it is your best interests to do so. Ask any questions you have online to receive the legal care you deserve.