First Offender Treatment

When Can you Plead Under the First Offender

Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals limited the circumstances under which a defendant can plead guilty under the First Offender Act. See Higdon v. State, A11A0926.  The Court upheld a judge’s decision which refused to accept a defendant’s guilty plea under the First Offender Act to more than one case at the same time. The ruling clarified that “one occasion” of first offender treatment means in a single prosecution of related offenses.”

The Georgia First Offender Act found at O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60 provides that a defendant who has not been previously convicted of a felony can enter a plea of guilty or nolo contendre to the charges as a first offender.  There is no finding of guilt,  the case is delayed while the defendant is on probation. If the defendant successfully completes his probation, he is discharged without a conviction.  The First Offender Act is useful in disposing of a criminal case without the adverse affect on job opportunities and voting that a felony conviction might have.  The purpose of the first offender law is to allow the first offender an opportunity for rehabilitation without the stigma of a criminal conviction. See State v. Wiley, 233 Ga. 316 (1974).  A person cannot enter a plea under the First Offender Act on more than one occasion.  O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60 (b). Whether to sentence a defendant under as a first offender is left to the judge’s discretion. See Moore v. State, 236 Ga. App. 889 (1999).  The judge must consider the request before making a decision.  Powell v. State, 271 Ga. App. 550 (2005).  In Higdon, the defendant had never been convicted of a felony and was eligible to be sentenced as a first offender.  However, Higdon had multiple cases pending. His attorney asked the judge to accept his guilty plea to all the cases and sentence him as a first offender in all of his cases.  The judge refused.  The judge stated that he had no authority to sentence Higdon as a first offender on more than one case even if the cases were disposed of at the same time.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the judge holding that the “one occasion” language in the law means for one or more offenses in an indictment or accusation or for one or more offenses set forth in multiple indictments or accusations that are consolidated or joined for one trial.  Since the indictments in Higdon were not consolidated for trial prior to submitting the guilty plea the judge was correct in finding that each separate case was an “occasion” for purposes of the First Offender Act. Therefore, Higdon could not receive first offender treatment on each case.

The circumstances in the Higdon case could easily apply to your criminal matter. As such, it is imperative to hire competent and aggressive attorneys to represent your interests. When you need legal assistance, call Rouse & Co., LLC and allow us to put our expertise to work for you.

Rouse & Co., LLC Attorneys at Law is an established DUI and Criminal Defense Law firm that serves clients in Atlanta, Georgia as well as Snellville, Loganville, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Suwanee, Duluth, Norcross, Buford, Monroe, Conyers, Convington, Stockbridge, Riverdale, Jonesboro, Fayetteville, Douglasville, Decatur, Doraville, Tucker, Fairburn, College Park, East Point, Peachtree City, Midtown Atlanta, North Atlanta, Buckhead, Marietta, Forest Park, Smyrna, Vinings, Mableton, Union City, Roswell, and Sandy Springs; we serve communities in a variety of counties including but not limited to: Gwinnett County, DeKalb County, Clayton County, Henry County, Newton County, Rockdale County, Walton County, Fayette County, Fulton County, Douglas County, and Cobb County. Call us for immediate legal help at reasonable, fair, and inexpensive prices, cost, and/or fees. 
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