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First Offender Act

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 42-8-60, individuals may be sentenced as a First Offender and avoid a felony conviction.  You may be allowed to be sentenced under the First Offender Act if:

  • You have never been convicted of a felony in any state;
  • You have never been sentenced under the First Offender Act;
  • You are not charged with Driving Under the Influence;
  • You are not charged with a serious crime against a law enforcement officer while the officer was engaged in the performance of their official duties;
  • You are not charged with a serious sexual or violent felony, including murder or felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, or aggravated sexual battery;
  • You are not charged with child pornography, electronic sexual exploitation of a minor, or computer pornography

Just because you may be eligible to be sentenced as a First Offender does not mean the court will automatically sentence you as such. You must ask the judge to sentence you under the First Offender Act, and the judge may or may not grant your request. If a judge grants your request, you must still serve your sentence, which may include probation or jail time. Failing to complete your sentence requirements can result in a revocation of your First Offender status, an adjudication of guilt, and you being re-sentenced to serve the maximum possible sentence that could have been originally imposed. If you successfully complete your sentence under First Offender status, however, you will be EXONERATED OF GUILT and your case will be DISCHARGED as a matter of law. The discharge will be entered on your official Georgia criminal history record, and the case will be sealed from your record for most employers.  If you are exonerated and your case is discharged, you can honestly say you have not been convicted of a felony.  Law enforcement agencies and some employers will still be able to see the record.

Conditional Discharge

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 16-13-2, a first offense drug possession or a first offense nonviolent property crime may be eligible for conditional discharge. In these cases, a judge may place you on probation while you seek drug rehabilitation. If you complete the terms of your probation, the Court can dismiss the charges against you. If you fail to complete the probation’s terms, the Court may enter an adjudication of guilt and proceed accordingly. 


Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 35-3-37, individuals may be eligible for the restriction of access to their criminal history record for some offenses. While the record will not completely disappear, access to the record will be restricted for some non-criminal justice purposes such as employment. It may be possible to restrict access to your criminal history arrest record to judicial officials and criminal justice agencies if:

  • The offense was never referred to the prosecuting attorney’s office for prosecution;
  • The offense was dismissed or reduced to a local ordinance violation;
  • A Grand Jury has returned two No Bills;
  • A Grand Jury returned a No Bill and the amount of time, as set by law, has elapsed since the No Bill was returned;
  • You were convicted of Possession of Alcohol by a Person Under 21 years of Age or Furnishing Alcohol to a Person Under 21 years of Age;
  • You have successfully completed a drug court treatment program, a mental health treatment program, or a veterans treatment program;
  • You were acquitted of all of the charged offenses;
  • Your conviction was vacated by a trial court or reversed by an appellate court and the case has not been retried within 2 years thereafter;
  • Your case has been on the Dead Docket for more than 12 months;
  • You were arrested on a Fugitive from Justice warrant;
  • You have been granted a pardon by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles;
  • You were convicted of a misdemeanor or a series of misdemeanors arising from a single incident if you have completed your sentence and you have not been convicted of any crime for the last 4 years; or
  • You were convicted of an offense while you were the victim of human trafficking  

Accountability Courts

The Georgia General Assembly created the state Accountability Court Program with the goal of providing effective sentencing alternatives for nonviolent offenders and reducing the state’s prison population. The Brunswick Judicial Circuit has an accountability Drug Court in Camden, Glynn, and Wayne counties.

Drug Court is a multiphase program that provides clinical substance-abuse treatment, addiction counseling and education to non-violent, felony drug offenders and other non-violent offenders whose crimes are related to their drug addiction.

The program is overseen by a Superior Court judge and referrals are made by the District Attorney’s Office. Defendants spend a minimum of 18 months with 12 months clean or 24 months with six months clean in the program.  The length of time served in the program may be longer if the program requirements have not been met.  Upon graduating the program, criminal charges can be dismissed upon motion of the District Attorney’s Office.

Pretrial Diversion

The Brunswick Judicial Circuit’s Pretrial Diversion Program was created in 2022 to serve as an alternative to prosecuting first-time offenders through the criminal justice system. The Pretrial Diversion Program is designed with the following goals in mind: 

  • Deter future criminal conduct; 
  • Reduce the number of less serious cases in the courts; 
  • Provide restitution to the victim; 
  • Provide an offender with an opportunity to accept responsibility without having a criminal conviction on their record; therefore, reducing the rate of recidivism; 
  • Provide rehabilitative services, life-skills training, and other opportunities to correct underlying issues that led to the criminal activity instead of incarceration; and 
  • Protect the community by supervising participants. 

The Pretrial Diversion Program Handbook is designed to answer questions about what is expected of a participant in this program. In addition to abiding by the program requirements laid out in the application and agreement, each participant must also abide by any special conditions explained by the Pretrial Diversion Case Manager. 

Courtroom Etiquette

Proper etiquette is important in any courtroom setting. When visiting a courtroom, all attendees should remember and respect the following guidelines:

  • The dignity of the court is to be respected and maintained at all times.
  • Court security officers are authorized to open and inspect any item carried into the courtroom.
  • To maintain the dignity of the court, appropriate attire should be worn.  Men should wear a shirt with a collar (shirt tails must be tucked in) and long pants (jeans are acceptable); women should wear a dress, or a blouse and skirt or long pants (jeans are acceptable); shoes should be worn in the courtroom – flip-flops are not acceptable; shorts, T-shirts or revealing clothing are not acceptable; and, hats or caps must be removed while in the courtroom.
  • Everyone in the courtroom, unless physically challenged, must rise when the judge enters and remain standing until the presiding judge invites everyone to be seated.  Similarly, when court adjourns, everyone stands in place until the judge is no longer visible.
  • When court is in session, no one should be heard except for the parties before the bench and there shall be no cross-talk between the parties. All comments should be directed to the judge.
  • Doorways and passageways should be kept clear at all times.
  • There is no talking in the courtroom. If you need to talk, please step outside. However, repeated entrances and departures are to be avoided.
  • Cellular phones and electronic devices are prohibited in the courthouse.

Grand Jury

At the time and date specified in the summons (usually the first day of the Term), those summoned for service on the Grand Jury assemble at the county courthouse (or other location indicated in the summons). At that time a Judge of the Superior Court or someone designated by the Judge will question the assembled jurors to determine if any of them are disqualified from serving. It is vital that you advise the Court if you have any reason to believe you may be disqualified. Failure to do so can invalidate the work of the Grand Jury during the Term and require those criminal cases to be re-presented to another Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury’s Legal Advisor – The District Attorney

By law, the District Attorney is the legal advisor for the Grand Jury. In so providing, the legislature recognized that most citizens who serve on the Grand Jury are unfamiliar with the many technicalities of the law.

The District Attorney is responsible for advising the Grand Jury on any questions of law or procedure.  In 1973, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the Grand Jury must rely on the District Attorney for legal advice and may not employ any other lawyer for that purpose.

In addition to serving as legal advisor to the Grand Jury, the District Attorney and his Assistant District Attorneys are counsel for the State in all criminal cases that are brought before the Grand Jury.  The District Attorney’s Office will prepare the cases for presentation to the Grand Jury and subpoena necessary witnesses.

The District Attorney and Assistant District Attorneys will be present with the Grand Jury when criminal cases are being presented. They will administer the oath to and question witnesses before the Grand Jury.