A “First Offender Program” is a type of diversionary alternative sentencing program.  It is available for some crimes for persons who do not have a previous criminal record.  Previous traffic records usually don’t count as a first offense, although a previous juvenile offense might count.

First offender programs are intended to rehabilitate the offender and help them avoid a jail or prison sentence.  This allows them to retain their function and role in society; it may also help them to maintain a clean criminal record in some cases.  It also encourages repayment to society through restorative justice. When issuing a first offender program, a judge will consider all the various factors surrounding the criminal case.

What are Some Aspects of a First Offender Program?

Every first offender program is going to be different depending on the type of crime involved.  But whether operated by the federal or state government, a typical first offender program may involve:

  • Mandatory counseling or educational courses in relation to the crime involved
  • Payment of restitution (monetary payment to the victim to reimburse them for losses)
  • Community service, typically performed on weekends
  • Drug, alcohol, or psychiatric rehabilitative counseling
  • Letters of apology to the victim(s)
  • Any other methods or processes that might help to keep the offender from committing crime

All of these measures are usually granted in exchange for the defendant not having to serve their full sentence.  In some cases, only part of a jail sentence will be reduced; but in most first offender programs, the goal is to keep the offender out of jail entirely.

When are First Offender Programs Available?

First offender programs are not available for all types of crimes.  They are generally reserved for crimes involving:

  • Juvenile crime
  • Domestic abuse or violence
  • DUI (sometimes difficult to obtain for these types of offenses)
  • Prostitution
  • Many types of misdemeanor crimes, such as petty theft, shoplifting, and some alcohol-related crimes
  • Some traffic violations
  • Certain types of drug crimes and drug-related offenses

However, regardless of the type of crime, a judge may be hesitant to prescribe a first offender program if they feel that the offender will be a continual threat to the safety or health of the community.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Requesting a First Offender Program?

If you or one of your loved ones is facing criminal charges, it may be possible to request participation in a first offender program instead of serving a jail sentence.  The assistance of a qualified criminal defense lawyer may be necessary when making such a request.  An attorney can help research your options, and can ensure that the court fully considers all the different facts of your circumstances.