Recently, I received a call that should be a strong reminder of the risks of being on probation.
I spoke to a young man on felony probation for a case that would not have been prosecuted had he been represented by competent counsel. Instead, his public defender entered a guilty plea under the Georgia First Offender Act.
First Offender in Georgia:
A person in Georgia can plead guilty under the first offender act and have the adjudication of guilt withheld (this does not apply to DUI).
The benefit of first offender is that once a person's probation is completed, they will be adjudicated "not guilty." Additionally, their criminal record can be restricted such that a non-government employer will never know about the arrest. Also, all civil rights, such as owning a firearm and voting, are therein restored. For a guilty defendant, this law can be beneficial.
However, first offender treatment is a double-edged sword. The negative aspect of the law is when there is a violation of probation. When a first offender violates their probation, they will then be adjudicated guilty of the original crime and re-sentenced to any lawful penalties, including time in jail. The new sentence can exceed the length of time of the first sentence.
As a result, using the first offender act has a significant risk, especially when a person does not realize that any further violation of the law can cause them to end up in jail.
The Example Above:
The young person that called me should never have been on probation in the first place. I am certain his public defender “convinced him” that he would have his record cleared once he completed his probation.
The problem is that no one considers the risk of being on probation. This young person has now been charged with a misdemeanor offense. The result is he may very well spend significant time in jail on his felony probation violation.
Additionally, he will be adjudicated guilty of a felony for which he should never have been prosecuted in the first place. He will potentially be a felon for the rest of his life and have the consequences therein.
The moral of this bad story is to hire a competent attorney that will defend you before submitting to a guilty plea. I felt very sorry for this caller to my office.