First Time Offenders
Your Lack of a Criminal Record Could Present Unique Opportunities First Time Offenders are typically dealing with one of the most stressful times of their life. After an arrest, these clients often tell us at their initial consultation that they are suffering anxiety, feel overwhelmed and fear what may yet lie ahead.
Typical First Time Offender Concerns
- Will this incident be in the newspaper & what will my friends and family think?
- What are the possible consequences or penalties that I am facing?
- Will I have to go to court?
- Would I have to answer questions from the judge?
- How long will my case take to resolve?
- What are the ramifications of my arrest and how could it affect my future?
- Are there any programs that provide leniency for first-time offenders?
- Is there a possibility I could go back to jail?
- Will I have a criminal record?
- Can I seal or expunge the records?
We Can Help First Time Offenders Take Advantage of Unique Opportunities
We recognize that you’re going through one of the most difficult times of your life. For that reason, our staff is dedicated to making you feel as comfortable as possible and giving you the personal attention that you deserve. Most importantly, we have the ideas, methods, and know-how that could result in a favorable solution to your current problem. We know how to make the best use of your First Time Offender Status.
First Time Offenders… Let Us Help Explore Your Pinellas County Criminal Court Options
Prompt Intervention with the Prosecutor
Simply because you have been arrested does not mean that the prosecutor has to file a formal charge against you. At times, early intervention by your lawyer in providing the prosecutor with your side of the story, or the names of your witnesses can be effective. This “pre-filing” effort could make a difference in the decision on whether to file a formal charge, file a lesser offense, or decline to prosecute you at all. Being a First Time Offender may put a positive slant on these efforts. Why not exploit the fact that you have never previously been involved in the criminal justice system?
Programs for Florida First Time Offenders: Getting the Charge Dismissed Through Diversion / PTI
With little or no prior criminal record, you may be eligible to enter into a diversion program (Pre-Trial Intervention or Domestic Violence Intervention). These programs are typically available to clients accused of a first offense of a third degree felony or a misdemeanor. We can review the facts of your case and submit a written application to the State Attorney’s Office for your entry into the program. We have the experience and know-how to point to mitigating factors that may help justify your acceptance. If you enter a diversion program, you will usually not be required to attend court. However, as a condition of the diversion program you will be required to complete certain agreed-upon requirements. You will, of course, promise not to be arrested for a new offense throughout the duration of the program. Upon successful completion of the program, your charges will be dismissed. As a result, you can thereafter honestly state that you were never convicted of a crime. Learn more about pre-trial intervention and diversion programs.
Drug Court: Avoiding Conviction
If you have been charged with a drug possession crime or an offense that is directly related to an addiction issue, the adult drug court may be a viable option for you. Drug court is a court-supervised treatment program for non-violent offenders. It is a result of a community partnership forged between the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Corrections, local law enforcement, community substance abuse providers, and concerned citizens. Adult drug court supervision can begin in two ways: 1. As part of a probation requirement; or 2. Through entry into a Pre-Trial Intervention (Diversion) Program. If you successfully complete drug court as a condition of probation, you will receive a withhold of adjudication. A withhold of adjudication avoids a formal conviction. If you enter drug court through a Pre-Trial Intervention program, your charges will be dismissed upon successful completion of the program. By entering drug court, you can avoid both jail time and a formal conviction. Read our webpage on Pinellas County Drug Court.
Plea Bargaining: Playing the “First Time Offender” Card
During plea bargain negotiations with the prosecutor, we can emphasize your “clean” record and argue that you are therefore worthy of leniency. For example, a ‘Withholding of Adjudication” may be negotiated between the Prosecutor, your Attorney, and the Judge. This agreed upon final outcome may result in a sentence and/or probation, but not a conviction. A well structured plea bargain can:
- Prevent your employment and future from being jeopardized
- Extending the time to meet court imposed financial obligations
- Avoiding formal conviction
Setting Up a “First Time Offender” To Qualify for Record Sealing / Expungement
As a “First Time Offender” we’d like to see you restored to the position you occupied before you were arrested or charged. Clients who enjoy a withhold of adjudication or have their charges formally dismissed through their successful completion of a diversion program, may be eligible to have their records sealed or expunged. Florida law prohibits the sealing or expungement of any case where the individual is convicted of the offense. Therefore, getting the right outcome to the case is imperative to preserving your later right to seal or expunge all arrest records. Click for additional information on sealing or expunging your criminal record.
Trying to Represent Yourself Could be a Costly Mistake
An experienced State Prosecutor is assigned to your case tasked with the professional objective to seek justice in conjunction with appropriate punishment. Many first time offenders wrongly assume that the prosecutor will agree to a reduction of the charge or request a lenient sentence from the court, only to be greatly suprised when the State seeks a conviction, probation, or even jail time. The perils of speaking on your own behalf in court are well illustrated by the old axiom that “a man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Even skilled and experienced attorneys who find themselves accused of a crime will almost always decline to represent themselves. They recognize the true value of having an advocate who is more familiar with the local court system to defend their best interests. Many first time offenders are under the mistaken impression that they can take advantage of the services of a “free lawyer” from the Public Defender’s Office. In reality, the services of the Public Defender are restricted to people who have an income that is below the poverty level. In addition, the services of the Public Defender are not “free.” Studies demonstrate that the outcomes in criminal cases handled by court-appointed attorneys can often be inferior to those secured by private counsel. Consider the advantages of a private attorney versus the public defender. The results of your court hearing are something that you will be forced to reflect upon for the rest of your life. Even the decision on whether to plead “guilty” or “no contest” can have far reaching consequences. Appealing an undesired outcome or mistake caused by your inexperience or lack of specialized legal training can be an expensive and time consuming process. Likewise, the results of any appeal may be uncertain at best. For that reason, getting it right the first time is imperative.
We Can Help
Don’t rely solely on the advice of a family member or friend. Call us to schedule a free consultation. We are St. Petersburg / Clearwater criminal defense attorneys experienced in helping persons charged with a first time criminal offense. We invite you to meet with a lawyer so that we can learn what objectives are important to you. Together, we can tailor a strategy that is focused on achieving the best possible outcome according to your individual needs. We can further investigate the facts of your case and ask some important questions:
- Is this your first encounter with the criminal justice system?
- Do you have little or no prior criminal record?
- Can your case be handled without you having to appear in court?
- Is your case a good candidate for pre-filing intervention that may prevent formal charges?
- Are you eligible for a diversion program that results in a dismissal of the charge?
- Can your case be resolved to avoid formal conviction?
- Can your record of arrest be sealed or expunged?