First-Time Offender Felony Charge Act in Texas

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Should one mistake keep you from living a normal life? Should that one action make it difficult to find employment? Should it put you behind bars for years? These are the central questions behind first-time offender laws in Texas.

If you commit a misdemeanor or felony and you have an otherwise clean record, you may be eligible for a first-time offenders program in Texas. These programs allow for leniency in sentencing, often helping the defendant to avoid jail time. However, the courts will not let all new offenders take part in these programs.

What Is the First-Time Offenders Program in Texas?

The goal of any state's first-offender program is to successfully rehabilitate criminals with minimal punishment. Instead of jail time and a hefty fine, convicted individuals can serve sentences of community service, take courses or counseling, and pay a small administrative fee. Some programs are statewide while others vary by county.

Read More: What Are the Rules About Where Texas Sex Offenders Can Live?

Which Programs Are Statewide?

The Texas First Time Offender Felony Charge Act allows leniency on felony drug charges for first-time offenders. Instead of receiving the maximum sentence, which can be two to 99 years in jail, depending on the felony classification, convicted individuals undergo rehabilitation for addiction and counseling. The court may also mandate community service.

House Bill 3016 created a similar program for those who commit a first-time DWI offense in Texas. These offenders can receive two years of probation. After completing probation, a convicted person can request non-disclosure for the crime. This designation means that employers and anyone else who conducts a background check would not be able to see the conviction. To receive non-disclosure, the convicted person must install an ignition interlock that prevents the car from starting unless the driver passes a blood alcohol level test.

County-Specific First-Time Offender Programs

Some counties offer first offense programs of their own. For example, the first offender program in Tarrant County is a plan for non-violent felony drug offenses. Candidates for this program must have no convictions or pending cases of any crime other than a Class C misdemeanor. Furthermore, the court must consider the defendant a "self-corrector" who will not commit the crime again.

Bexar County has the Pre-Trial Diversion Program, which keeps non-violent, first-time offenders from getting a conviction on their records. To get accepted to this program, one must show rehabilitation potential. While prosecutors decide who exhibits this quality, they consider how much remorse the offender displays and any extenuating circumstances surrounding the crime.

What Happens if Someone Doesn't Complete the Program?

Someone in a first-time offenders program in Texas should be sure to complete every court mandate. Failing to meet an expectation could nullify the lenient sentence. For example, committing another crime or refusing counseling could jeopardize the person's standing. If this happens, defendants could face the full punishment for their offense.