Written by attorney Evan A. Watson

Marijuana Charges in Georgia: 2 Ways for an Attorney to Keep Your Record Clean

Marijuana Charges in Georgia: 2 Ways for an Attorney to Keep Your Record Clean

I f you've been charged with Possession of Marijuana in Georgia, you may be facing either misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the amount of marijuana found, and what the circumstances surrounding your arrest were. Under Georgia law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor crime, as long as it’s a simple possession case, as opposed to a distribution type case. Distributing, selling, growing, or possession of more than an ounce will land you in a Superior Court and facing felony charges. While both these scenarios are grim situations to be facing, Georgia law does include some options that an attorney may be able to use to defend your case. Two of the most popular amongst attorneys are (1) the conditional discharge or 'drug first offender plea', and (2) the Pretrial Intervention Program. The highlights of each option are explained below.

The Georgia Conditional Discharge under O.C.G.A. 16-13-2 (a)

Under Georgia’s conditional discharge statute, also known as a drug first offender plea, if you have not ever been convicted of a drug crime and the Judge approves, you may be eligible to plead guilty to the drug charges, yet have your record cleared after a period of probation, as required by the plea. The benefit to a conditional discharge plea is that upon successful completion of whatever sentence the court imposes, the charges will be dismissed and will not be considered a conviction on your record. This means you will not lose the rights you’re stripped of as a convicted felon. The potential pitfall with a conditional discharge plea is that since you must technically enter a plea of guilty before the court allows you to proceed, if you violate the terms and conditions of your probation, you have already pled guilty and the court will immediately bring you in for sentencing. There are no second chances, the guilty plea you already entered will stand, and you are often times facing jail time, as well as the felony conviction remaining on your record for life.

While the exact terms of the sentence will be negotiated between your defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney, the law calls for a period of probation, with an emphasis on rehabilitative programs and conditions. This usually includes drug screens, abstaining from drug and/or alcohol use, monthly or sometimes weekly probation meetings, AA/NA meetings, and potential treatment for any substance abuse issues. The terms can be rigorous, making a conditional discharge a wise choice only for those willing to make a change and move forward to successfully complete the sentence. Again, there is no second bite at the apple. If you flunk out, you have already pled guilty to the underlying charges, and Judges will not hesitate to enter a harsh sentence.

The Georgia Pretrial Intervention Program

Many Georgia prosecutors’ offices have started up formal pretrial intervention programs. District Attorneys, Solicitor Generals, and City Solicitors are all capable of running these pretrial programs to handle charges ranging from city ordinances to felony drug charges. Pretrial Intervention is a generic term for any program set up and run by the prosecutor’s office handling your case. The programs will vary from court to court, and it is up to your attorney to negotiate for your participation in the program, as well as the terms imposed by the program. Like a conditional discharge plea, pretrial diversion programs will require that you complete a laundry list of terms and conditions, usually requiring probation, some type of substance abuse evaluation and classes, participation and probation supervision fee, and other terms that the prosecutor pushes for. The difference between pretrial diversion and a conditional discharge plea is that you are not entering a plea of guilty when enrolling in a pretrial diversion program. The program keeps you from going before the Judge and being sentenced, unlike with a conditional discharge plea where you must plead guilty. Therefore, in the event you flunk out of the program, the prosecution starts over from the beginning, giving you a second bite at the apple. Needless to say, it is advantageous to complete the program, rather than drop out. Often times, I am able to negotiate and convince the prosecutor to allow for your arrest record to be expunged if you successfully complete the program- another benefit over a conditional discharge plea. (While a conditional discharge is a dismissal, it will still show on your Georgia criminal record.)

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, it’s imperative that you get in touch with an attorney to discuss your options. Often times, these special pleas dissolve once your case gets too old, and you must simply proceed to trial on the charges.

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