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What Is a First Offense?

In criminal law, a first offense refers to the first time a person is charged with or convicted of a particular crime.  For a first-time offender, navigating through the legal system can be intimidating. Fortunately, courts and judges tend to be somewhat more lenient in criminal trials involving a first-offense. For example, first-time offenses may be associated with reduced sentences or alternative sentencing measures such as parole or probation. 

What Happens after a First Offense?

On the other hand, the down side is that a first offense can often pave the way for greater legal penalties down the road. If the defendant commits the same offense again, the legal penalties will become progressively stricter with each repeat offense. This is known as sentence enhancement

For example, the legal penalties associated with petty theft can include a small criminal fine and a short period in jail, usually no more than 6 months. However, a repeat conviction for petty theft can result in higher criminal fines and a longer period in jail. 

Furthermore, after several offenses, a misdemeanor crime may be charged as a felony conviction on the defendant’s record. Felonies carry heavier penalties, such as higher fines and a prison sentence for at least one year. Lastly, in some states, a first felony offense may count a strike for certain life sentence statutes (such as California’s “Three Strikes” law).

What Is a “First Offender Program”?

A first-offender program is a type of diversionary program that offers alternative sentencing options for certain first-time offenders. First offender programs usually allow the person to not have the charges entered officially into their record. The defendant may also be released early on parole and allowed to participate in community programs aimed at rehabilitation rather than criminal punishments. 

These are only available for certain first-time offenders, such as those with no prior criminal record in any other areas, juvenile offenders, and some drug-related offenses.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a First Offense?

Dealing with a first offense in any area of law can be very intimidating. You might not know how to proceed, and you might have a number of questions and concerns regarding the charges you’re facing. It’s in your best interests to hire a qualified criminal defense lawyer if you need assistance with a first-time offense. An experienced lawyer in your area can help ensure that you receive the proper legal advice and representation during your trial.

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Last Modified: 09-08-2015 03:24 PM PDT

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