Pre-Trial Intervention: Many jurisdictions in Georgia offer diversionary programs to first-time non-violent offenders as an alternative to prosecution. Although the terms and conditions of each program differ (depending on the court and the nature of the charges), a pre-trial diversion participant can often expect a program fee, community service hours, mandatory classes and substance abuse evaluations. These programs are designed to rehabilitate and deter future criminal behavior while avoiding the common program of overcrowded court dockets. By successfully completing pre-trial diversion, criminal charges will be dismissed and by petition to and order from the court, the charges will also be expunged from their arrest record.

Negotiated Plea: A negotiated plea is when the defendant agrees to enter a guilty or “nolo” plea in exchange for a reduced sentence or charge upon agreement by the State and the Defense.

Non-Negotiated Plea: A non-negotiated plea is a plea entered into by the defendant without a deal with the State. By entering a non-negotiated plea, the Defense essentially leaves sentencing in the hands of the Court. During a non-negotiated plea, the State provides a factual basis for the plea and makes a recommendation to the court. The defense does the same and advocates for a lighter sentence than the one recommended by the State based on specific circumstances (which are presented to the Court before sentencing).

NOLO Plea: A “Nolo Contendere” or No Contest plea is a plea in which a person neither admits nor disputes the criminal charges as alleged but wishes to resolve the case by plea. Because of the benefits associated with a “Nolo” plea, judges have discretion to accept or reject a person’s request to enter a “Nolo” plea. Furthermore, it can only be used once every five (5) years and there are specific (and different) rules for individuals under the age of twenty-one (21).

Although a “Nolo” plea will not affect a judge’s sentencing decision, it can be extremely beneficial under certain circumstances. For example, in traffic cases, a “Nolo” plea will prevent the assessment of points on your driver’s license, making it more difficult for insurance companies to learn about the infraction. In traffic cases stemming from car accidents, a “Nolo” plea will protect a cited driver against any admission of guilt on the record, which could later be used in a related civil action.

One of the most effective uses of a “Nolo” plea is in Possession of Marijuana, Less Than An Ounce cases, where First Offender-Conditional Discharge (Drug Offense) is unavailable or otherwise not used. By entering a plea of “Nolo” in a misdemeanor marijuana case (and completing a DUI School class), a person can effectively save their driver’s license from the automatic one-year hard license suspension associated with drug possession convictions. It should be noted that a “Nolo” plea often will not save a person’s Commercial Driver’s License. A person can also avoid a criminal conviction for drug possession using a “Nolo” plea.

Before making any decisions about whether to enter a “Nolo” plea in a criminal best, it is best to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Alford Plea: An “Alford” plea is a plea in which an individual does not admit guilt but agrees to enter a plea (which results in a criminal conviction) because he understands the State could prove the charges against him and he wishes to resolve the case before a trial.

The term “Alford” refers to a famous, pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case, wherein the Court held that a person could enter a guilty plea without admitting factual guilt, even if solely for the benefits received pursuant to a negotiated plea deal. Still, judges have discretion regarding whether to accept an “Alford” plea. Usually, they will look at a defendant’s criminal history, along with the facts and circumstances of the pending charges.

Guilty Plea: A guilty plea is an admission of wrongdoing, on the record, under oath, before the Court. It is often made pursuant to plea negotiations between defendants (by and through counsel) and prosecuting attorneys. In exchange for not wasting court resources and admitting to the crimes, defendants who take guilty pleas often receive more lenient sentences or reduced charges.

Because guilty pleas to criminal charges become part of a person’s record and have lifelong implications, a person entering a guilty plea must do so KNOWINGLY, INTELLIGENTLY, AND VOLUNTARILY. The burden is on the prosecuting authority to show the court, for the purposes of the record, that the person has waived a variety of constitutional rights and wants to enter a guilty plea.

After initially entering a guilty plea, a defendant, who has second thoughts or did not understand what was going on at the time of the plea, may be able to withdraw the plea. The two options thereafter would be: 1) enter a different type of plea or 2) schedule the case for trial. Because withdrawing a plea is time sensitive, it is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after the plea. An attorney can file motions on your behalf and request a hearing before the court. It is important to remember that defendants do not have a right to withdraw their pleas. Instead, whether or not to vacate a guilty plea is within the sole discretion of the judge who presided during the plea.

First Offender: Georgia’s First Offender Act allows first-time defendants charged with certain crimes to request First Offender treatment during sentencing. This treatment has pros and cons; it is a double-edged sword.

On the positive side, once a defendant completes the conditions of his sentence, he can petition the court to finalize First Offender completion and avoid a criminal conviction on his record. This means that defendants can honestly tell employers and others that they have not been convicted of the crime. Please note that law enforcement and other government entities may still have access to the criminal history of the case. It should also be noted that First Offender treatment is not available for DUI charges.

As for the negative side of First Offender, if a defendant violates First Offender probation and his probation officer petitions the Court to revoke probation, the Court can NOT ONLY withdraw the First Offender treatment (meaning, a conviction will be entered and First Offender won’t be available again) but also to resentence the probationer up to the maximum for the offense. This means that the probationary plea deal is jeopardized and the maximum prison sentence for the charges is put back on the table. Often times, this caveat is overlooked to the defendant’s disadvantage and it is crucial that they are made aware of it before agreeing to the terms of First Offender probation. For this reason, Rachel Kaufman Law educates clients on the benefits and consequences of entering a plea under First Offender. Please do not hesitate to call and ask any question you may have about First Offender.

Dead Docket: Placing a case on the court’s dead docket means the prosecuting attorney has suspended the case indefinitely. Although the case may be reinstated at any time within the statute of limitations, a dead docket case that has not moved forward within twelve months of the dead docket is subject to dismissal.

Dismissal for Want of Prosecution: Cases that are “dismissed for want of prosecution” are dismissed because a crucial witness (usually an officer or a victim) does not appear in court, making it impossible for the prosecutor to meet its burden of proof. Once a judge signs a dismissal order, the case is effectively closed until and unless the case is re-filed within the statute of limitations.

If you or someone you know and care about needs help resolving a criminal matter (misdemeanor or felony) in the State of Georgia, contact Rachel Kaufman Law and get the legal representation you need. Rachel has handled a variety of sex cases in jurisdictions throughout Georgia and she will use all of her experience and knowledge to help individuals resolve their cases in the most favorable way possible.