How Can Being a First-Time Offender Affect Your Case and Penalties?

Special treatment is available for first-time offenders but not for everyone.

By itself, first-time offender status means little. For the most part, these defendants get no special treatment. Prosecutors often offer more favorable plea bargains, but not significantly more favorable. Furthermore, jurors do not know about the defendant’s lack of a criminal record until the penalty phase. By that time, many jurors have often made up their minds. However, first-time offender status and a compelling backstory often make a significant difference.

If defendants have good Atlanta criminal defense lawyers, the first-time offender/backstory combination is even more effective. Attorneys know how to use this backstory in combination with a procedural, substantive, or affirmative defense and obtain a positive result in a case, even when all seems lost. This positive result could be a complete dismissal of charges, a not-guilty verdict at trial, or a truly favorable plea bargain agreement.

Effective Backstories

Many defendants are under the influence of an illegal substance, mostly alcohol or drugs, when they commit a first-time offense. Sometimes this root cause is an effective backstory, and sometimes it is not.

Judges, juries, and prosecutors often look favorably at defendants who voluntarily get help for substance abuse problems. We all like second chance stories, and we all like people who accept responsibility for their actions. If defendants wait until a Judge orders them to seek treatment, this sympathy factor disappears.

In contrast, the “wrong place at the wrong time” backstory generally does not work. Georgia has strong conspiracy laws. For example, if Eddie agrees to watch a corner while his compadres break into a store, Eddie is usually responsible for any criminal activities, up to and including assault and murder, which happen in the store, even if he did not know all the plan’s details.

Of all backstories, the before-and-after backstory may be the best one. For example, if Eddie was a dropout who was hanging around bad people, Eddie would be more sympathetic if he got a job and went back to school, relocated, and, since we are in the south, found religion.

Effective Defenses

We mentioned the major kinds of criminal defenses above. Now, let’s examine them in detail. Usually, the defense does not have to be strong enough to hold up in court. Instead, it must only be strong enough for an Atlanta criminal defense lawyer to use it as leverage during plea negotiations.

Procedural defenses usually include Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations. The Fourth Amendment prohibits most warrantless searches and seizures. In a possession case, if a Judge excludes weapons, drugs, or other contraband, the case often falls apart like a house of cards. Most prosecutors do not want to take that risk.

Substantively, prosecutors must have enough evidence to convict a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Assume Phillip is charged with DUI and causing an accident. Unless a credible witness saw Phillip behind the wheel, which is unlikely, these charges will not hold up in court.

Affirmative defenses include self-defense in an assault case, consent in a sex crime case, and police entrapment in other cases. These defenses are tricky since defendants must admit to the elements of the offense before they present their affirmative defenses.

Count on a Dedicated Gwinnett County Criminal Defense Lawyer

First-time offenders could have an easier time in criminal court. For a free consultation with an experienced Norcross criminal defense lawyer, contact Zimmerman & Associates, Attorneys at Law. We routinely handle matters throughout the Peachtree State.