By: Larry Kohn, Criminal Defense Attorney Atlanta
What Is a Conditional Discharge?
A conditional discharge is a first-time offender, alternative disposition (negotiated by a criminal attorney for the person to enter a plea of guilty) to a criminal case involving a drug offense. When eligible, a person’s use of the Georgia statute, OCGA 16-13-2, will result in a favorable case adjudication which keeps an accused person from being formally convicted of a drug crime, so long as compliance with all applicable conditions of the negotiated, conditional discharge plea are met.
Failure of the offender to be faithful to the terms and completing the structured program, however, exposes the person to a maximum sentence. Usually limited to first-time substance abuse offenders or people with no adult criminal record of past, similar crimes, this once-in-a-lifetime plea disposition can be instrumental in keeping a client’s criminal history record “clean.”
The objective for a judge permitting a conditional discharge in Georgia is to use this “wake-up call” to try and divert an otherwise productive person from engaging in criminal conduct relating to drug use. If complied with, a successful “discharge” keeps the person’s criminal record “clean.” Our conditional discharge lawyers know that a conditional discharge record is a NOT a disposition that goes unnoticed by federal authorities.
A conviction like this will trigger H1B visa or immigration issues, just like utilizing the Georgia first offender law. These clients’ cases require special handling, and a diversion or other negotiated plea dismissing the charges is needed. Most criminal law attorneys are NOT familiar with the critical differences between diversion and conditional discharge in GA.
Not all states have a conditional discharge statute. Some states (e.g., New Jersey) have both a conditional discharge law and an absolute discharge law, but most have either no discharge law or just one of these laws. In Georgia, a so-called conditional discharge sentence has valuable aspects, such as the ability to obtain a form of expungement after conditional discharge. In Georgia, this sentence is called “records restricted.” If completed to the court’s satisfaction, a discharge signifies that the defendant is discharged and he or she will have essentially pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor or felony drug crime, but no conviction exists on the discharged offender’s criminal history or will be found on background checks.
Conditional Discharge GA Under OCGA 16-13-2
A conditional discharge under Georgia law is one of the “tools” used by knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorneys near me who regularly practice criminal law. Prior experience in “packaging” a conditional discharge case for presentation to the criminal court judge is where having one of Georgia’s best criminal attorneys for your defense is an asset, which is where our law firm’s 73 years of combined experience pays off.
Some of the other alternatives (under Georgia law) to taking different types of felony or misdemeanor cases to trial and “rolling the dice” on the outcome are a diversion program or use of a first offender act statute to ameliorate the potential impact of a criminal conviction. For U.S. citizens, these other sentencing alternative statutes may accomplish certain goals, but not for those at risk of being deported.
How Does Conditional Discharge in Georgia Work?
A person who has been convicted of a crime related to narcotic drugs, marijuana, stimulants, depressants, or hallucinogenic drugs may be placed on a conditional discharge probation program if both the defendant and court agree. So, you are admitting guilt in court but (as part of what your conditional discharge attorney has negotiated) are undertaking drug rehabilitation, medical treatment such as a “detox” program, counseling, therapy, and a behavioral change to EARN this very favorable resolution to your drug-related criminal law violation.
The judge will make a finding of guilty, and impose the sentence, yet (under the conditional discharge statute) you are not legally “guilty” so long as you are in good standing at the court and have complied with all court-ordered rehabilitation programs while serving your sentence. You must stay “clean” over a designated period (e.g., three years) and meticulously comply with the conditions of your probation order. Your alternative is to go to jail or state prison, and this situation is why the court holds the sword of Damocles over you and requires that you not have a positive drug test from random screenings.
Three years is the usual period of compliance for felony drug crimes, but if your sentence is for 10 or 20 years and are subject to getting your discharge within three years, any violation can send you to prison for the maximum prison time, as if you walked in and pleaded guilty. Plus, laws in Georgia broadly define what a drug crime can be, such as using drugs, possessing drugs, or committing a property crime (shoplifting theft) that is connected to your addiction.
Take advantage of our FREE lawyer consultation with one of our partners: ex-cop Cory Yager, our AVVO and Super Lawyers partner Larry Kohn, and Georgia’s best-known criminal defense lawyer, William C. “Bubba” Head. All three law partners are published, legal book authors.
Our law office’s criminal discharge GA attorneys near me in the metro Atlanta counties (Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, Cherokee County, and Forsyth County) are veterans at finding solutions to tough cases where clients face substantial state prison time. Call 404-567-5515 today for your FREE legal advice.