What is Conditional Discharge?
Georgia law offers residents facing first-time drug-related charges with an opportunity to avoid jail or prison time and enroll in appropriate rehabilitative services. The conditional discharge program provides that a first-time offender plead guilty to the charges of possession and/or use of narcotic drugs, marijuana, stimulants, depressants, or hallucinogenic drugs, or non-violent property crimes related to drug use and addiction, in exchange for entering into a drug treatment program with accompanying supervision. The conditional discharge program can last for 3 years for possession charges and up to 5 years for non-violent property-related crimes.
During this period of supervision, the guilty plea is suspended, although hanging over you in the event that you violate any of the rules of probation. A first offender might be enrolled in a comprehensive drug rehabilitation program, detox program, counseling, therapy, or medical treatment, if needed, for a period of not more than 3 years. You will have to submit to random drug tests throughout the supervisory period. The purpose of the diversion from prison is to give first-time offenders the information and methods they need to end their addiction and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Any failure to comply with the terms of conditional discharge can mean activating the guilty plea you entered when you joined the conditional discharge program and maximum sentencing to jail or prison.
For Georgia residents with H1B visas or immigration status issues, a guilty plea and diversion into conditional discharge can trigger federal enforcement actions, including deportation.
That’s why you need an experienced conditional discharge lawyer to help you make the right choices when facing the option of conditional discharge.
How Does Conditional Discharge in Georgia Work?
Participation in a conditional discharge program requires that you enter a guilty plea in court, thus waiving all defenses to any of these charges. In exchange for admitting to the charges, the court will place you in probation for up to 3 years for possession charges or up to 5 years for non-violent property-related charges stemming from drug use or addiction. While on probation, you will be required to participate in drug rehabilitation, a detox program or medical treatment, counseling, therapy, and/or submit to periodic drug testing. By coming clean and staying clean, you earn the right to eventually gain a clean criminal record.
Although you must admit to guilt as a condition of entering the program, that guilty plea is suspended during the duration of your probation so long as you continue to comply with all the terms imposed by the court. Any relapse might mean immediate revocation of probation and a maximum sentence in jail or prison for the underlying possession or property-related crimes. However, successful completion of the conditional discharge program means a clean criminal record, and hopefully, a healthier lifestyle.
How to Qualify for Conditional Discharge in Georgia?
To qualify for conditional discharge, you must be a first offender on drug-related charges, including possession or use of narcotics, marijuana, stimulants, depressants, or hallucinogenic drugs or a minor charged with illegally possessing or trying to obtain alcohol. A first offender minor, under the age of 21, who has been charged with purchasing, attempting to purchase, or possessing alcohol, or misrepresenting one’s age to buy alcohol also qualifies for the conditional discharge diversion program.
A prior criminal offense does not disqualify you. A clean criminal record is not a prerequisite for enrollment in conditional discharge. You still can participate in a conditional discharge diversion program even if you have been charged previously for non-drug-related offenses and even convicted on other charges. This must be your first drug offense.
You must plead guilty to the underlying possession or use charges, or non-violent property-related drug charges, such as shoplifting or theft. In pleading guilty, you waive your constitutional rights to defend yourself. Waiving any defenses is why it is so important that you retain a skilled and competent conditional drug conditional discharge attorney who can review the police reports and prosecution’s case against you to determine whether there are possible legal or factual ways to fight the prosecution’s charges. In choosing conditional discharge, you give up your rights to contest the prosecution’s case in a pretrial or suppression hearing, give up your rights to a trial by jury or judge, the right to the presumption of innocence, and the right to either testify or remain silent.