The various types of "First Offender" in Georgia
This guide aims to dispel some of the frequent confusion regarding the Georgia options of: First Offender; Conditional Discharge; and a similar provision for Underage Possession of Alcohol.
The Big Umbrella: First Offender ActWhat: The first offender act separates a judge's sentence from the actual conviction. Once you complete the terms of the sentence, the case is disposed of without a conviction. You are legally able to state that you have NOT been convicted of a felony after successful completion of a first offender sentence. There is an added risk of completing the terms of your sentence under the first offender act, though. If you goof up bad enough during your sentence, and the judge decides to revoke you first offender status, then the judge can resentence you to the maximum time allowed in prison.
Who: Anyone who has not previously been convicted of a felony. Available for most crimes (felony and misdemeanor), except for major felonies like murder, rape, child molestation, etc, and DUI.
Typical Strategy: Save your first offender option. As the biggest umbrella, it can often be used even after the other umbrellas (below) have been used.
The Smaller Umbrella: Conditional DischargeWhat: Conditional discharge is very similar to the first offender act, however, it is only available for drug offenses, or minor property crimes related to drug use (think, pawning stolen goods to get money to buy drugs), AND the maximum sentence length is five years. Your typical VGCSA possession charge (meth, cocaine, heroin, etc) is a three-year maximum sentence and often qualify. Also, the typical theft by taking or theft by receiving charge is a five-year maximum sentence, and often qualify SO LONG AS a sufficient link can be proven by you that the theft was related to drug use.
Who: Anyone who has not previously been convicted of a drug crime.
Typical Strategy: If possible, use conditional discharge before using the first offender act.
The Tiny Umbrella: Underage Possession of AlcoholWhat: Similar to the above two, this option is often referred to as "underage possession conditional discharge," although you won't see that title in the statute. It allows someone to be given a sentence for underage possession of alcohol, and upon completion of the terms of the sentence, then the case will be disposed of without a conviction being entered on the person's record.
Who: First-time offenders of underage possession of alcohol may use this umbrella. If you are a second-time offender, you may consider using the conditional discharge option, discussed above-but speak with your attorney first to see if that is the best use of conditional discharge for you.