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Punishment For First Time Offenders

Punishment For First Time Offenders

Drug charges are always taken seriously, whether they are committed by first-time or repeat offenders. The law often allows for some leniency for first-time offenders, however, in hopes that that first offense will remain the only one.

What Is a Diversion Program for First-Time Drug Offenders?

Most U.S. jurisdictions are strict on drug-related offenses, such as possession, use, trafficking, and distribution. However, drug policies in many jurisdictions also include what are referred to as diversion programs for those charged for the first time with a drug offense. These first-time offender programs help defendants avoid establishing criminal records. The programs also help offenders obtain sufficient levels of punishment to deter them from engaging in further use and/or possession of illegal drugs.

How Available Are Diversion Programs to First-Time Offenders?

Diversion programs are limited in availability. They are often filled on a first-come, first-served basis or according to the recommendation of a sitting judge, prosecutor, or other court personnel. Governmental resources and personnel are strained, so the spaces in these programs are hard to come by and not widely available to each and every first-time offender. They represent the perfect one-shot opportunity for an offender who seeks to learn a lesson from his or her offense and avoid a record of criminal activity going forward.

What Is a Conditional Discharge?

Minor drug offenders facing first-time possession of illegal drug charges and who do not have prior convictions for disorderly offenses can sometimes be ordered by the court to be placed on probation. The placement of probation is ordered at the court's complete discretion. The typical probation period spans approximately one year. If the probation is completed by the first-time offender in a satisfactory and successful manner, then the offender's criminal drug-related conviction is expunged from his or her record on a permanent basis. This unique benefit offered to some first-time offenders is called the conditional discharge. The powerful tool of permanent expungement of a criminal record within the conditional discharge or expungement process is a very persuasive vehicle to most first-time offenders.

Are There Limits to the Conditional Discharge?

The main limit to a conditional discharge is that it can only be used once. Additionally, the conditional discharge must be used by an offender on a drug-related offense that is valid and likely to succeed in prosecution. If the defendant and his or her counsel perceive that the charge is false, likely to be dismissed, or somehow fatally flawed, then it may be best to have the case tried (and hopefully resolved in favor of the defendant) rather than expending the valuable conditional discharge tool.

What Is Pre-Trial Intervention?

Pre-trial intervention programs are designed for the offender's rehabilitation. They are an alternative to the litigation process in court and the potential for obtaining a criminal record. The programs have defined requirements for compliance for an offender to be permitted to participate. For example, qualified participants in pre-trial intervention programs must meet certain requirements. They must:

  • be charged with an offense that is indictable
  • be first-time offenders
  • have never participated in such a program before
  • have never before received a conditional discharge