Ways to Avoid a Criminal Conviction on Your Record, Including Pre-Trial Diversion, First Offender, and Conditional Discharge.
A criminal conviction can have negative consequences on someone's record for many years. There are several ways to avoid a conviction in Georgia for some offenses in certain situations, and it's important to know the options for each individual case.
1. Pre-Trial Diversion: This is typically available to first time arrestees for certain misdemeanors such as Theft by Shoplifting, Possession of Marijuana, and Disorderly Conduct. It can also be available for felony drug possession and theft crimes in some courts, depending on the facts of the case. Diversion involves doing things such as community service, anger management, alcohol/drug evaluations, and drug testing. If the program is successfully completed, the prosecution dismisses the charges and the arrest record can be restricted on your record. It's important to note that diversion is something that is offered at the discretion of the prosecution and is not something that is a right as a matter of law.
2. Conditional Discharge (OCGA 16-13-2): This is a "guilty plea" in which the Court withholds adjudication of guilt and the charges are discharged and dismissed without a conviction if the terms of probation are successfully completed. This can be used ONLY once in a person's life and is applicable ONLY to drug possession charges and non-violent property crimes related to substance abuse issues.
3. First Offender Act (OCGA 42-8-60): This is similar to the conditional discharge in that it requires a "guilty plea" and can ultimately lead to discharge and no conviction if the defendant successfully completes probation. It is applicable to misdemeanors except traffic offenses and DUI. It can also be used for many felonies (except murder, rape, sex crimes, and other major crimes). It can be used only once in a person's life and cannot be used if that person has previously been convicted of a felony in any state. The risk to pleading guilty under the First Offender Act is that if one violates probation and the Judge revokes the defendant's First Offender status, the Judge can re-sentence the person to the maximum amount for the charges, regardless of how much time the defendant has spent on probation.
4. Acquittal after a Trial: Everyone has the right to a jury trial and to compel the State to prove any charges beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury or Judge finds a person not guilty, it is not a conviction and the arrest record can be restricted.
If you are facing any criminal charges, you should consult an attorney and figure out your options to try and avoid a criminal conviction on your record.