Hiring an attorney can help you resolve your case through alternative sentencing programs. Most Georgia courts offer Pretrial Diversion Programs. If your case is eligible, by completing a Pretrial Diversion Program, your charges will be dismissed and potentially expunged from your criminal record. If you fail to complete diversion, your case will be prosecuted as if you never entered into the program; however, you still can fight the charge or work on a different plea agreement.
An alternative to Pretrial Diversion is Conditional Discharge. With a Conditional Discharge, you enter a guilty plea on the record and enter into a program similar to a diversion program. If you complete the program, your case is dismissed, and the charges will be restricted from your criminal history. However, unlike with pretrial diversion, a conditional discharge plea is an adjudication of guilt. As a result, if you fail to complete the program, your charge will go on your record as a conviction.
It is important to note, after you complete the terms of the conditional discharge or diversion program, you must take active steps to expunge (restrict) your record. Many people mistakenly believe that expungement (record restriction) “erases” the conviction from your record. This is not the case. Instead, outside of law enforcement or in a future criminal proceeding, no one can view the information.
Prior to July 1, 2013, restricting your record after a conditional discharge was a lengthy process. For cases originating prior to July 1, 2013, Georgia law requires the following, more complicated, three-part process:
- Fill out the expungement package (and pay a processing fee)
- Have the law enforcement agency involved in the arrest sign off and agree to the expungement
- Have the prosecutor assigned to the case sign off on the expungement and send it to the GBI to remove the arrest from your record.
The new records restriction law significantly simplifies this process. As of July 1, 2013, all you have to do is contact the prosecuting attorney or the court clerk. Someone must enter in the system that that your conditional discharge has been “Completed and Restricted.”
As stated above, “restricted” does not mean erased; however, the public and potential employers will not view the arrest once it is restricted. However, prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement can see the previous arrest. As a result, prior arrests can be used for enhancement of punishment on a new arrest or to prevent someone from having a second arrest treated as a first offense.