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The Leniency Afforded To First Time Offenders

First time offenders generally get the most lenient and fairest treatment in the criminal justice system. Depending on the severity, judges are far likelier to impose lenient sentences on first time offenders out of sympathy for a person who has made an error in judgement. Moreover, first time offenders have a very strong incentive to keep their records clean and abide by the terms of their sentence and/or probation. First time offenders are also less likely to re-offend. However, it is worth noting that there is a drastic difference between a first-time offender who is 20 and a first-time offender who is 40. If a person is 40 when they are convicted of a crime for the first time, that tends to show that they are likely to not re-offend. On the other hand, when a 20-year-old is convicted for a first time, it is much more likely that they will commit a criminal offense again.

Eligibility for Diversion

First time offenders may be eligible for deferred entry of judgment or a suspended sentence. Many times, this is the best possible outcome in a criminal case with the exception of a full acquittal. Some diversion programs, if completed, allow the defendant to avoid a conviction entirely while other programs allow the defendant to avoid criminal charges altogether. These programs are usually available without any accompanying jail sentence. Community service may be required and the amount of hours a person may have to serve is generally predicated on the severity of the offense. If you have been previously convicted of a crime, it is unlikely that you will be eligible for diversion. In courts across Northern Virginia, having a Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney can make a big difference in whether you are able to enroll in a diversion program in order to avoid a permanent conviction on your record.

Plea Bargaining

Judges and prosecutors are far more inclined to give people a break when they make a one-time mistake. Whether through diversion, probation, or suspended sentence, having a clean criminal record will work as a major advantage in your attempt to obtain a favorable resolution in a criminal case.

Trial for First Time Offenders

If plea bargain or diversion cannot be obtained, your Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney may be forced to take the matter to trial. But being a first-time offender has some very big advantages. First, the Commonwealth won’t be able to use any prior convictions against you for character impeachment purposes or to argue to a jury that you have a propensity to engage in criminality. You will be able to testify on your own behalf without worrying that a jury will be prejudiced by any prior arrests or convictions. Moreover, if you somehow lose at trial, being a first-time offender will most likely compel a judge to impose a lighter sentence – which may not even include any jail time.

Probation for First Time Offenders

Most misdemeanor convictions in Virginia will result in some manner of probation and, depending upon the crime, probation may be accompanied by some jail time. The length of probation depends upon the crime, but it is generally for no more than five years. In misdemeanor convictions where the defendant has no criminal history, it is likely that they will be required to serve summary or informal probation which does not require the defendant to check in with a probation officer. Instead, summary probation allows the probationer to live life freely so long as they don’t commit any further criminal offenses. Probation can be denied in misdemeanor cases, but it is highly unlikely that this will happen – particularly if you are a first time offender. In felony cases, you may not be allowed to serve probation, but will instead be sentenced to prison. If probation is granted in a felony case, it will be formal probation which requires the probationer to check in with a probation officer. In the event you are convicted of a crime, your Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney can advocate for you to receive probation.


In Virginia, Class 5 and Class 6 felonies are termed “wobblers” in that they can be considered misdemeanors or felonies depending on how the prosecutor chooses to charge the crime or how the judge and/or jury chooses to treat the conviction. If you are a first-time offender charged with a “wobbler”, it is very likely that you will be charged with a misdemeanor. However, people with prior convictions who are charged with a “wobbler” will likely be charged with a felony.

Prior Juvenile Offenses

If you have only been convicted of a crime when you were a juvenile, the prosecution and court will know about it if you haven’t had the conviction sealed once you became an adult. Depending on your age when convicted as a juvenile, and the facts of your case, your lawyer may be able to convince the prosecutor or the court to treat your adult case as though you were a first-time offender.

Contact a Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you or someone you love is a facing a criminal charge for the first time, contact the Law Offices of Randall Sousa for a Free Consultation with an aggressive, affordable, and highly skilled Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney. 571-354-6164

By: Randall Sousa