Being charged with a crime is a scary and overwhelming event that might result in a devastating legal sentence; but you may be able to get a second chance to avoid some of the life-altering consequences and impacts of a conviction. First-time offender programs are being developed on the federal and state level to give low-level, non-violent offenders a chance to avoid jail time so they can redeem themselves. Throughout the state of Texas, many first-time offenders are getting the opportunity to change their lives for the better.

Texas legislators are considering the impact of a criminal conviction on an individual’s future, noting, for example, the difficulty of securing employment or housing after being convicted of a crime; the legal penalties for a crime reaches well beyond the sentence handed down in court. Because of these considerations, legislators are creating options other than jail time for first-time offenders in Texas. 

First-time offender programs are designed to help rehabilitate offenders and decrease the trend of reoffending among them, as well as to reduce jail populations that lead to overcrowding. These programs are not available to every first-time offender; qualifying for one of these programs is dependent upon the specific crime and whether it is a misdemeanor or felony charge. They require that offenders who qualify to participate in a first-time offender program be drug tested as they progress through the program. Further, they require that participants attend practical classes, take part in counseling or other treatment, and/or agree to a clearly defined period of probation. If participating offenders complete the program successfully, there is a chance that the probation period might not be added to their criminal records; and they will likely avoid jail time and any other negative outcomes.

Texas has passed legislation to create and employ first-time offender programs in cities across the state. Texas first-time offender programs, sometimes also called diversion programs, address both alcohol- and drug-related first-time offenses. Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3016, known as the “Second Chances” bill, into law in 2017 to allow first-time misdemeanor DWI/DUI offenders to seal criminal records with those charges on them from public view; this measure limits who can access those records and allows those offenders the opportunity to apply for employment and find housing without having to disclose those charges, so they are not automatically disqualified from either. In addition, Texas legislators also passed the “First Time Offender Felony Charge Act,” which aims to help first-time felony drug offenders that have no prior convictions in the state by providing them the opportunity to avoid the maximum sentence for their crime by fulfilling alternative sentences, such as the aforementioned counseling and treatment programs. There are also some programs at the county level in Texas. In Travis County, a few of the alternative disposition or diversionary programs include Pretrial Diversion Programs (for both felonies and misdemeanors), Youthful Offenders Diversion Program, DWI Court, Veterans Court, Drug Court, and others.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a first-time offense, you should consider securing professional legal representation. Jarvis, Garcia, & Erskine Law is an experienced team of lawyers available to help you in Travis County and throughout the Austin, Texas area. You can contact Jarvis, Garcia, & Erskine Law online or any time, day or night, by phone at 512-359-3030. The qualified attorneys will be able to assist you with all your legal needs.