First Time Offenders
Attentive Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer
Your first arrest can be an intimidating experience. Whether you've been charged due to a misunderstanding or because you made an honest mistake, the whole process is stressful, hurried, and confusing. Texas is and likely always will be tough on crime, and consequences can be severe. However, not everyone who is charged with a crime deserves harsh punishment-and our justice system, in narrow circumstances, make allowances for those who deserve a second chance. Our Lake Jackson criminal defense lawyer at JM Davis Law PLLC can answer your questions and help you protect your future.
Rehabilitation for First Time Offenders
Many states allow those being charged with a crime to participate in certain programs in order to have the charges against them dropped. These requirements can vary, but often they require a defendant to be on probation and prove to the court that they can be rehabilitated without need for heavy sentencing. If the defendant is able to adequately prove their potential for rehabilitation to the court, the charges will often be dismissed. Please note that pretrial diversion or intervention programs differ from county to county and can change over time. Not all offenses will qualify and a criminal history will render you ineligible.
What are My Options as a First Time Offender in Texas?
Judges in Texas typically aim to rehabilitate first time offenders. It is generally believed that if a first time offender is kept out of the jail / prison system, he or she is less likely to fall into a cycle by becoming a repeat offender.
The options that are usually available to most first time offenders include:
- Intervention with the prosecution before formal charges are filed - During this time your defense attorney will emphasize that your record is otherwise clean and that this was a one-time mistake. In some cases, this intervention can result in the charges being dropped or reduced.
- Pretrial Intervention or Diversion Programs - These programs are usually available to first time offenders who have committed nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. If an individual successfully completes a program of this nature, his or her charges can be dismissed.
- Specialty Courts - This option allows the defendant to have his or her case heard in a specialty court that will sentence the individual to rehabilitative punishments such as community service, counseling, and drug or alcohol education courses, instead of jail.
- Plea bargaining - In some cases, an individual can plead guilty or no contest to the charges against him or her, in exchange for reduced penalties such as community supervision, probation, recovery programs, or other penalties that don't involve imprisonment.
Harris County First Chance Intervention
The Harris County First Chance Intervention Program gives citizens a chance to avoid a criminal conviction by completing eight hours of community service or completing an eight-hour class to avoid criminal charges. Harris County Pre-Trial Services will monitor participants and supervise the program.
The program recognizes the principle that first-time offenders who commit low-level, non-violent offenses are often self-correcting, without the need for more formal and costly criminal justice intervention. It also frees up law enforcement, jail, prosecution and court resources that would otherwise be expended in the arrest and prosecution of the offender.
A person is considered a first offender and eligible to participate in the program if he or she:
- Is detained or arrested* for possession of marijuana, 2 ounces or less
- Possesses sufficient identifying information
- Has no additional charges out of the instant detention / arrest (other than Class C tickets)
- Has no outstanding warrants or holds (including Class C charges)
- Has no criminal convictions as an adult (Class B offense or greater)
- Has never received probation or deferred adjudication (Class B offense or greater)
- Is not currently on bond, deferred adjudication, or probation (Class B offense or greater)
- Has not participated in this program or another pretrial intervention program
*Under this pilot program, offenders arrested by an agency other than the Houston Police Department or the Harris County Sheriff's Office will be sent to jail and offered the First Chance Intervention Program in court.
There are specific program requirements; an offender must:
- Contact Pretrial Services within three business days of his / her arrest and schedule an intake appointment
- Appear at Pretrial Services for an intake interview and a short assessment
- Participate for 60 or 90 days*, during which time the offender must: (1) Not break the law, (2) Pay a non-refundable $100 program fee (may be reduced or waived if indigent), (3) Complete either eight hours of community service or an eight-hour cognitive class*
*Program length (60 or 90 days) and program requirement (community service or cognitive class) will be determined at the intake interview
Harris County Pretrial Diversion
Your criminal case may be dismissed if you meet all of the conditions of pretrial diversion, also called pretrial intervention. It is available in most instances.
To qualify, you must:
- Not have any prior arrests
- Be working or going to school full-time
- Submit a urinalysis that shows you are not consuming non-prescribed drugs or alcohol
- Write a letter of remorse and admit your guilt
- Provide three recommendation letters
The pretrial diversion program is available for driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenders if they meet all of the above qualifications plus have a valid driver's license and an open container must not have been in the car during arrest.
If you follow the court's orders, you will not be convicted. You can request for an expungement of your record after two years. A pretrial diversion may be acquired with the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney. If you fail to meet the circumstances of the pretrial intervention, your case would, for all intents and purposes, start over from the beginning.
For first-time DWI offenders, the program includes several aspects, including:
- Classes intended to prevent future drinking and driving
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)
- Attendance at mandatory alcohol treatment
- Community service
- Report to a probation officer
Galveston County Pretrial Diversion
The pretrial diversion program in Galveston County is for individuals charged with certain misdemeanor crimes. To be eligible, you must have no prior criminal history except traffic citations. No felony offenses will be eligible for the program.
Charges that will be eligible for the program are:
- Possession of Marijuana: Class B & A
- Possession of a dangerous drug
- Possession of a Controlled Substance (misdemeanor)
- Evading Arrest
- Theft Class B & A
- Deadly Conduct
- Criminal Mischief
- Burglary of a Vehicle
- Reckless Driving
- Assault - Bodily Injury
- Assault - Family Member
- Failure to report accident
- Other misdemeanors not listed below
Charges are not eligible for the program are:
- Delivery of Drug Paraphernalia
- Anything sexual in nature (public lewdness, prostitution, indecent exposure, etc.)
- Resisting arrest
- False report to police
- Possession of Marijuana in a Drug Free Zone
Should I Agree To Pretrial Diversion?
Sometimes a pretrial diversion is in your best interest. However, even when there is positive evidence of your guilt, such as a failed breath test or blood test, a Lake Jackson criminal defense attorney from our team at JM Davis Law PLLC may still be able to secure an exoneration or dismissal of the charges in your case. Therefore, we do not advise that you accept pretrial diversion without examining your options. Under the contract for pretrial diversion, your arrest will still be on your criminal record during the entire year you are going through the program. Expunction is not guaranteed until years after the completion of the program.
Let us review your case and help you decide on how to proceed. Call JM Davis Law PLLC now at (855) 390-0455 for a free case evaluation with a Houston attorney from our team.