The First Offenders Act, also referred to as a withheld adjudication, is one of the most important criminal statutes for defendants on the books. The Act is codified at O.C.G.A. §42-8-60. FOA allows a defendant to plead guilty to a particular charge, serve the sentence imposed by the judge, but then not have a conviction upon successful completion of the sentence. Essentially, the court accepts the guilty plea, but withholds actually adjudging a defendant guilty. FOA can only be used once in a person’s life.
FOA is generally used to avoid a felony. A felony conviction will a persons civil liberties like owning or possessing a firearm, voting, receiving government benefits, and holding public office. It can also substantially impair a persons ability to obtain employment. FOA allows a person to avoid these harsh penalties. However, one can not use FOA for very serious felonies like: murder, rape, sex related crimes.
FOA can also be used for misdemeanors, although not usually advised. Usually, one would want to save FOA for a felony charge. Using FOA is truly a tactical call for an experienced lawyer and truly understanding the client. FOA can be used for almost all misdemeanors. The main misdemeanor that FOA can not be used for is a DUI change. Georgia statute specially precludes the use of FOA for DUI offenses.
FOA can be a double edge sword for a defendant. While is can save someone from a felony conviction, a defendant can also lose it if they violate a condition of probation or parole. If a person commits a probation or parole violation, and probation or parole is revoked by a judge or the parole board, the defendant can be resentenced to the original crime and serve the remainder of the sentence in jail.
FOA is a powerful tool for a defendant, but it must be taken seriously. A defendant must successfully complete the sentence before receiving its benefit