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First Time Offender Programs: Think Carefully

Arrest on a drug or other charge is frightening. Without a prior arrest record, you may be eligible for a first time offender program. It sounds like a good deal, but should you take it?  The answer is, it depends.

Under Virginia law, so-called 251 diversion programs provide a means to deal rapidly with a minor drug or other charge and move forward with your life. Many defendants take the deal but do not understand longer-term circumstances that apply.

If you are facing a drug charge, the court may ask if you want to enroll in a 251 program. Agreeing to enter a 251 program means the following:

  • You are essentially pleading guilty to the crime. A misdemeanor conviction is a serious long-term consideration. If you fulfill the requirements of the 251 program, a 251 dismissal is entered on your record. When a potential employer, educator or even credit agency reviews your record, the presence of the misdemeanor, or 251 dismissal can have an unforeseen consequence on your future.
  • If you fail to fulfill probationary requirements of the program, you are convicted and sentenced of the crime for which you are charged — with no further trial or opportunity to prove innocence. The program requires paying fines, undergoing drug and alcohol testing, performing community service and other stipulations.
  • A driving suspension usually accompanies a 251 program. This means driving privileges are suspended for six months following entry into the program.

Before entering into a 251 program, discuss the option, and the facts of your case, carefully with an experienced criminal law attorney at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy, P.C. especially if you have immigration concerns. For some, a 251 program may not be the best deal.

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