If you have never broken the law before, committing a crime for the first time may seem out of character for you. As a first time offender, you are in a good position compared to repeat offenders. First time offenders are usually treated with more leniency.

There is a belief that offenders are less likely to re-offend after committing their first crime. As a result, first time offenders are often given additional options, such as alternative sentences, to help get them back on the right path.

Unless a first time offender’s crime is not eligible for reduced sentencing, there’s a reasonable possibility that they’ll receive a lighter sentence. To maximize that chance, it’s important to work with experienced criminal defense attorneys, like the ones at Vindicate Law. Our legal team can help you plead your case and guide you toward a favorable outcome.

Learn more about first time offenders, related federal acts, alternative sentencing programs, and the answers to a few frequently asked questions:

  • What is a First Time Offender?
  • The Federal First Offenders Act May Apply to Your Case
  • What are First Time Offender Programs and How Do They Work?
  • First Time Offenders FAQs

What is a First Time Offender?

A first time offender is a person who has committed a crime for the first time. This might be someone who has a first-offense drug charge or someone who has a first-offense DUI. When someone is a first time offender, there is usually a possibility of receiving a more lenient sentence or finding an alternative to prosecution.

It’s possible to be a first time offender and face either a misdemeanor or felony charge. If you’re convicted, you could face jail or prison time, financial penalties, or other punishments. Fortunately, there are plea deals for first time offenders that can lead to significantly reduced sentencing.

The Federal First Offenders Act May Apply to Your Case

The Federal First Offender Act allows some first time offenders to complete probation to get a charge dismissed. This helps prevent permanent records of criminal history that could make it difficult to live normally in society. Sometimes, the arrest and case can also be expunged when the correct requirements are met.

If you are accused of a first-time offense, it’s important to look at your options with a qualified criminal law attorney. With their assistance, you may be able to have your case dismissed or the penalties reduced as a result of your history of good behavior.

What are First Time Offender Programs, and How Do They Work?

First time offender programs, also known as diversion programs, are ways to atone for a crime without going through the typical criminal rehabilitation process. They are available to first time offenders, and are offered by the federal government and some state governments.

These programs are designed to address the causes of criminal activity. In many cases, they are offered to individuals who committed a crime due to homelessness, addiction, or mental illness.

Most programs for first time offenders are run by prosecution offices at the relevant level of government (federal, state, or local). Participation in one is completely voluntary. Prosecutors will generally keep the charges open and suspended until the program is complete. In the event that someone fails to complete the entire plan, they will have to face the original charges in court.

During a first time offender program, an individual will have to complete a detailed set of tasks designed to reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Some of the most common requirements are:

  • No new arrests or charges
  • Regular check-ins (often weekly or monthly) with a probation officer
  • Continued employment or education
  • Attend recommended treatment or counseling (if applicable)
  • Provide timely child support, alimony, or restitution payments (if applicable)
  • Pass randomly administered drug and alcohol tests

These requirements can vary based on the original charge. For instance, a first time offender program for a substance-related crime, like a DUI, will likely involve sobriety requirements and treatment. Some programs offer grace for a mistake but rarely more than once. This is left up to the discretion of the program administrator.

If an individual is able to complete a first time offender program, there are numerous benefits. Firstly, they will not have to serve prison time, and will rarely be fined. In some cases, particularly for first time drug offenses, program completion will not be considered a conviction. Defendants under the age of 21 can have their record expunged or sealed.

First Time Offenders FAQs

What is the most typical punishment for a first time misdemeanor?

In general, the most common punishment is probation. First time misdemeanors, while not always life-altering, can still come with severe consequences for the charged individual. If convicted, an individual may have to spend up to a year in a county jail, pay fines, or stay on probation.

Probation is a way for a convicted criminal to serve their sentence without majorly disrupting their life. A probationary period allows the individual to continue working and pursuing an education.

During probation, the convicted person has to meet certain requirements. These will vary based on the charges they received. In almost all cases, they will have to pass random drug/alcohol tests, and remain in good standing with the law. They may also be directed to not associate with known criminals, though this is more common for people who were convicted as part of a gang-related crime.

Are there crimes where being a first time offender doesn’t help?

While it is always better to not have a preexisting criminal record, there are several crimes where the punishment will always be severe. If someone is convicted of any of the following crimes, they will not be able to serve their sentence through probation or first time offender programs:

  • Sexual assault
  • First or second degree murder
  • First degree kidnapping
  • Lewdness with a child
  • Attempted sexual assault of a minor under 16

When an individual is convicted of any of these crimes, the grace they would typically receive as a first time offender is rescinded, and they are tried with the full force of the law.

Call Vindicate Law for First Time Offender Assistance

Being a first time offender is always better than being a repeat offender. However, a lack of experience navigating the legal system can result in first time offenders receiving a harsher sentence than they might deserve. Our criminal law attorneys can help you receive a lighter sentence or entry into a first time offender program.

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, it’s best to take action quickly. Call us at (888) 212-4824 to see how we can help you receive a fair sentence.