The biggest mistake people make when they have been accused of assaulting a partner or family member is not calling a criminal defense attorney right away. We understand why people hesitate to call a lawyer. They might think calling a lawyer will make them look more guilty. Or maybe they think it’s not a serious charge or that they can talk the accuser into dropping the charges.
However, all of these assumptions are wrong. The reality is that if you are charged with domestic assault in Virginia, you are facing serious consequences, and the sooner you talk to a lawyer, the more options you will have available to you. If this is your first arrest for assault, one of these options might be the first offender program.
Who Qualifies for the Virginia First Offender Program?
In family assault or domestic abuse cases, Virginia criminal courts have the option of placing a first offender on community-based probation instead of prosecuting and sentencing them according to the law. The goal of this program is to prevent repeat offenses by providing education, treatment, and a clean record after a first offense. If it is offered by the court, it is a good option for first-time domestic assault offenders. When you contact our law firm right away after your arrest, we will advocate for this option on your behalf if you meet the following eligibility requirements:
- You are at least 18 years old.
- You have not been convicted of domestic assault or another act of violence.
- You have not had a domestic assault or similar charge against you dismissed in the past.
- You plead guilty or nolo contendere to the charge.
- You consent to enter the first offender program.
If you meet these requirements, you really have nothing to lose by agreeing to the program. However, you will only have the charges dismissed if you complete the program successfully.
What Is Required to Complete the First Offender Program?
The first offender program is not exactly a Get Out of Jail Free card. Instead, it is an opportunity to correct a mistake and change the path you might be heading down. In order to have the charges against you dismissed, you must comply with the terms of your probation and complete all of the requirements, which will be determined by the agency in charge of your probation. Successful completion of the program will likely require you to do the following:
- Complete all assessment, treatment, and education programs required by the court or probation agency.
- As financially able, pay for the cost of any assessment, evaluation, testing, education, and treatment services required.
- Comply with good behavior expectations for a period of not less than two years following the deferral of charges.
If you violate the terms or conditions of your probation or the good behavior period, the court may find you guilty of the original charge and sentence you according to the law. You might think that a clean record is not worth the effort of attending educational programs and being on good behavior for two years, but the effects of a criminal record can haunt you for many years.
How a Domestic Assault Conviction Can Impact Your Life
Domestic assault convictions carry serious consequences, including jail time, hefty fines, personal protective orders, losing custody of children, and even losing your job or professional license. Refusing to participate in the first offender program—or failing to complete it successfully—could do further damage to your personal relationships and make it much harder to rent an apartment, get a job, have future relationships, and be a parent. You owe it to your future to do everything you can to avoid a domestic assault conviction.
Don’t Miss Out on This Valuable Opportunity
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you do not qualify for the first offender program or that it is not worth your time. Instead, trust an experienced criminal defense attorney to get the best possible outcome for you. In the Chesapeake region, contact James E. Short, PLC, online or call our office at 757-410-5042. He will get to work on your defense right away.