Having Your Record Sealed
The primary benefit of first offender is that it can protect you from having a criminal record. However, your record will show your first offender status until you finish your sentence. Put another way, you must finish all your probation before you get the full benefits of first offender. The only alternative is for your attorney to ask the judge for your record to be sealed while you are on probation.
What Does Having Your Record Sealed Do?
O.C.G.A. 42-8-62.1 permits the sentencing judge to order that public access to your first offender status be limited while you finish your sentence. At sentencing, the judge can order up to three things. First, she can prohibit the spreading of the first offender sentence. Second, she can require that all of the case information be sealed by the clerk of court and be made unavailable to the public. Third, she can order law enforcement agencies to limit public access to any information regarding your first offender status.
In order for the Judge to seal a record, the statute requires that she “weigh the public’s interest in the defendant’s criminal history record information being publicly available,” on the one hand. And on the other hand weigh “the harm to the defendant’s privacy and issue written findings of fact thereupon.” Your attorney should be ready to argue how leaving your record unsealed would harm you. For example, you may not be able to get a good job or provide for your family if your record is left unsealed. Your attorney should also make an argument regarding the lack of interest the public has in knowing your criminal record. For example, the crime may be victimless, a low-level misdemeanor, or a one-time occurrence.
Having your record sealed is a great tool your attorney can use to keep your record clean while you finish your first offender sentence. By restricting public access to your first offender status, record sealing can help you get your life back to normal as quickly as possible.