What You Need To Know If This Is Your First Criminal Offense

Every encounter with the criminal justice system is stressful, but if this is your first arrest it’s all new and scary to you. Many of our clients are first-time offenders, so we can anticipate many of your anxieties and pain points.

Below are some common questions that first offenders ask about. To discuss your specific situation, please don’t hesitate to arrange a consultation with attorney Alejandro Martinez by calling 512-523-5927.

Will I go to jail on a first offense?

Nearly every criminal offense — misdemeanor or felony — carries the possibility of jail or prison time. So you could be sentenced to jail even if you have no prior record. However, the state of Texas has developed programs specifically for first-time criminal offenders to keep them out of jail and to keep the focus on rehabilitation. It is important to work with a criminal defense lawyer who knows all the strategies to avoid a jail sentence.

Will a first offense go on my record?

If convicted, yes you will have a criminal record that will show up on background checks. However, as a first-time offender, you may qualify for interventions that keep that offense off your record.

What programs are available to first-time offenders in Texas?

The most common first offender programs are:

  • Pretrial diversion / pretrial intervention
  • Deferred adjudication
  • Specialty courts
  • Record non-disclosure

What is pretrial diversion for first-time offenders?

Most counties of Texas, including Travis County, Williamson County and Hays County, offer pretrial diversion programs, also known as pretrial intervention (PTI). Diversion is available to first-time offenders with drug charges, theft charges, first offense DWI, driving on a suspended license and other offenses. Diversion essentially keeps your case out of the system. You will not be prosecuted in exchange for completing all requirements of the court, such as substance abuse treatment, counseling, refraining from drugs or alcohol, community service and/or restitution. If you stay out of trouble, the charges are dismissed.

Texas also has mental health diversion programs for defendants who have a diagnosed mental illness. Pretrial interventions are granted at the discretion of the judge and the consent of the prosecutor, so you need a lawyer who can help convince them you are a good candidate.

What is deferred adjudication?

A deferment is another option for qualifying first-time offenders. You are essentially pleading guilty. However, jail time and other punishments are put on hold. If you comply with the terms of the court and do not commit any new crimes, you can move on with your life. While a deferred adjudication does go on your record, you can later seek a non-disclosure to seal those records from public view.

What is Drug Court?

Drug Court is a specialty court that recognizes the underlying addiction issues that drive drug use and drug possession and associated crimes that support a drug habit. It is available to nonviolent first-time felony drug offenders, offering mandatory treatment and ongoing support services in lieu of imprisonment. The Drug Court program typically lasts at least a year, with the goal of breaking the cycle and developing sustainable sobriety.

What other options are there for a first-time offender?

The first line of defense is your defense lawyer. If you hire legal counsel before formal charges are filed, they may be able to intervene directly with the local prosecutor to get charges dismissed entirely or downgraded to a lesser offense.

In some cases, it may be advisable to “bite the bullet” and enter a plea agreement. In exchange for pleading guilty, the prosecution may agree to reduced penalties including alternatives to jail such as probation, community service or house arrest. Every case is unique, and the pros and cons must be weighed carefully in consultation with your attorney.

I have one conviction, from years ago. Can I get it off my record?

If it was a first offense for a nonviolent crime, you may be eligible for a non-disclosure to seal old criminal records. If the court grants your petition, the state will enter an order of nondisclosure. The conviction is not erased; it will still count against you as a first offense if you are arrested in the future. But the record will not be accessible to the public and will not show up on criminal background checks.

Nothing Is Automatic. Call Us To Improve Your Chances.

You are not automatically eligible for first-time offender programs. The Law Office of Alejandro Martinez, PLLC, can help you open those doors. Mr. Martinez is an experienced criminal defense lawyer (and former city prosecutor) who will explain all your rights and where you stand, then fight for a favorable outcome. Call our Austin office at 512-523-5927 to schedule a consultation.