How Can Being a First-Time Offender Affect Your Case and Penalties?
Criminal convictions and penalties can change the course of your life. Too often, a criminal charge arises from a mistake or lapse in judgment that you wish you could take back, and you never plan to violate the law again. In some cases, being a first-time offender can help minimize the consequences you face for a conviction, and you should always discuss your options with a Texas criminal defense attorney right away.
First-Time Offender Programs in Texas
First-time offender programs are also known as pre-trial diversion programs. The goal of these programs is to help first-time defendants of low-level offenses avoid the maximum penalties of a conviction, many of which can haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Each County has their own program. One program that is useful is the First Offender Drug Program or First Offender Drug Court Program, which allows those facing certain drug crimes to participate in the program in lieu of time behind bars. Some charges eligible for the program include:
- Possession of fewer than four grams of a controlled substance
- Possession of fewer than four ounces of marijuana
- Possession of a controlled substance or marijuana in a drug-free zone
- Possession of a dangerous drug
- Diversion of a controlled substance
- Altering or forging a prescription
The defendant must not have any past convictions, deferred adjudication, or community supervision requirements. They must not have any additional pending criminal charges more serious than a Class C misdemeanor.
Instead of being convicted of a crime and serving a traditional sentence, the defendant can complete a limited supervision program that often involves treatment and other forms of rehabilitation.
Some counties have additional pretrial diversion programs, including the Mental Health Treatment Court program in Denton County. This can help defendants with mental illness get the treatment they need instead of facing time in jail for certain first offenses. Diversion programs take the case out of the court and allow someone to get the case dismissed and expunged.
Arguing for a Lenient Sentence
If you do not qualify for any official first offender programs, your defense lawyer can still argue that you deserve leniency because you have no prior offenses. A criminal history can increase charges and sentences dramatically, but a first-time offender does not have this aggravating factor present in their case.
The right defense attorney can present arguments that this was a one-time mistake, and a judge might not sentence any imprisonment or otherwise lessen your sentence for a conviction as a result. This is an important part of your defense.
Second Chance Law
If you were convicted of a low level offense and have no other criminal record, you might be eligible to seek a non-disclosure order for your record. This means you will not have to disclose the conviction to potential employers and other parties in the future, so you do not feel the life-long effects of your first offense.
Let a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Help
You should always seek criminal defense assistance - even for a first offense. To learn how the Law Office of Brent D. Bowen, PLLC can help you, contact us today for a consultation.