SECOND CHANCES UNDER GEORGIA LAW PART TWO
Last week I discussed the use of Georgia’s first offender statute as a way to prevent a person from having a conviction on their record. This week I’m going to discuss a similar statute that is applicable to people charged for the first time with low level drug charges or nonviolent property crimes. This statute is found at O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2 and resolution of a case under this statute is commonly referred to as a “conditional discharge.”
The conditional discharge statute may be utilized by a person charged with possession of a narcotic drug, marijuana, or stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic drug. Also, a person charged with a nonviolent property crime, such as a theft by taking or theft by shoplifting, may use a conditional discharge. Like first offender, a person enters a plea of guilty to the crime and the court imposes a sentence. Also like first offender, the person is not considered “guilty” while serving that sentence. Therefore, the court puts the offender on probation without entering a conviction against that person. Unlike first offender, the court’s sentence under a conditional discharge cannot exceed three years of probation for a drug case and five years of probation for a property crime. Additionally, the statute suggests that the court’s sentence should contain terms “which require the person to undergo a comprehensive rehabilitation program, including, if necessary, medical treatment….” The sentence should be designed to acquaint the person with the effects of drug abuse and to help the person become a good member of society.
If the person successfully completes their sentence under a conditional discharge, then their case is dismissed without a conviction on their record. However, if the person violates the terms of their probation, then the person will have a conviction on their record and the court can revoke their sentence. So like using first offender, there is a great benefit and a great risk in using a conditional discharge.
One of the most significant benefits to using the conditional discharge statute is that it arguably leaves a person the option to use their first offender in the future. Bear in mind that prosecutors will be more likely to fight against a person receiving first offender treatment on a case if they have previously used a conditional discharge. This is where the help of a criminal defense attorney is of utmost importance. I have provided only a brief overview of first offender and conditional discharge. So, if you are facing these decisions, then you should seek the advice of an attorney before you move forward.