Conditional Discharge: Understanding What it is
A conditional discharge is a mechanism available in for certain people in the criminal justice system. While not available for everyone, for those who qualify, a conditional discharge can be an effective way to handle pending criminal charges in a way that protects the defendant from a criminal conviction. A conditional discharge is a viable way of resolving criminal charges such as
- Possession of narcotic drugs,
- Possession of marijuana,
- Possession of stimulants,
- Possession of depressants,
- Possession of hallucinogenic drugs,
- Non-violent property crimes which stem from the defendant's addiction to alcohol or a controlled substance,
- Minors attempting to purchase, purchasing or possessing alcohol, and
- Minors attempting to misrepresent their age in order to obtain alcohol.
Conditional Discharge: Understanding How it Works
In order to take advantage of a conditional discharge, one must be guilty of the offense. If someone has a legitimate constitutional issue, this should be litigated before considering a conditional discharge. This is because when one chooses to take advantage of a conditional discharge, they begin the process by entering a plea of guilty to the offense charged. When someone pleads guilty, they give up the following constitutional rights.
- The right to a pretrial hearing to challenge probable cause for the charges against them.
- The right to a hearing to challenge the constitutionality of the methods used to obtain the evidence against them, including challenging: the stop of their car, any statement made, searches executed, seizures of their person or property, warrants for search or arrest.
- The right to a trial by jury or judge.
- The right to be presumed innocent of the charges.
- The right to require the prosecution to bring in witnesses to testify against them in open court.
- The right to cross-examine the state's witnesses.
- The right to call witnesses on their own behalf.
- The right to testify or remain silent.
- The right to a speedy resolution.
In most criminal cases, once someone has entered a plea of guilty, the court accepts the plea of guilty and proceeds to sentencing. Upon being sentenced, the person has a conviction on their record permanently, unless or until an expungement is granted.
In conditional discharge cases, however, the judge does not accept the plea of guilty. Instead, the court imposes a series of conditions on the defendant, which, if successfully completed, will result in the court never accepting the guilty plea. In exchange, the defendant agrees to give up their right to a speedy resolution of the court case.
The benefit to the defendant, of course, is that if they successfully complete the terms of the sentence and the court never accepts their guilty plea, they are never convicted of the offense. In other words, the offense does not go on their record. Thus, when asked, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony,” people who have taken advantage of a conditional discharge can truthfully answer, “No.”
Common Requirements in a Conditional Discharge Case Involving Drug Possession
In drug possession cases, it is reasonable to expect the court to impose some sort of drug rehabilitation program. Because each person's issues with chemical dependency vary, the recommendations will vary to meet the needs of the individual. Courts have the right to impose medical treatment as a requirement of the conditional discharge if the experts believe such treatment is necessary.
The goal of the treatment is to educate offenders on the dangers and ill effects of drug use and abuse. The state of Georgia also finds it in their best interests to educate offenders on the benefits of being a contributing member of society. In addition, courts will order conditional discharge beneficiaries to remain law-abiding and comply with the terms imposed by the probation department. Drug possession offenders can expect to be on probation for up to three years before receiving the full benefits of a conditional discharge.
Common Requirements in a Conditional Discharge Case Involving Charges of Minors Violating Alcohol Laws
Conditional discharges in cases involving minors either attempting to purchase, purchasing, or possessing alcohol, along with minors attempting to obtain alcohol by misrepresenting their age are similar to those involving drug possession charges. Because the crimes involving minors and alcohol may be linked to issues of chemical dependency, one may reasonably expect the same conditions regarding chemical dependency education or treatment will be imposed. Additionally, as with drug possession cases, the court will likely order participants to remain law abiding while their case is pending. Probationary periods in conditional discharge cases may last as long as three years. It is possible to have a shorter probationary term.
What Happens if One Fails to Meet the Terms of a Conditional Discharge?
Sometimes a person fails to comply with the terms of a conditional discharge. For example, they may not complete the prescribed treatment plan. They may not pay the restitution as ordered. They may commit a new offense. When someone fails to meet the conditions imposed, they return to court. The judge then has the power to accept the defendant's previously entered guilty plea. The court then imposes conditions of probation, which the defendant must follow. (Of note, conditions such as making restitution and participating in court-ordered treatment will likely be imposed as a condition of probation, just as they were imposed previously as a conditional discharge.)
Of particular note, upon the acceptance of the guilty plea, a condition is then entered onto their record. This results in the person becoming a convicted felon.
What Happens if One Successfully Meets the Terms of a Conditional Discharge
If someone meets all court-imposed requirements, the charges against the person are officially dismissed. As noted above, no felony conviction is ever entered on the person's record. Under Georgia law, the successful completion of a conditional discharge cannot be used to find someone does not qualify for an appointment to an office or for employment in either the public sector or the private sector.
Facing Criminal Charges?
If you are facing criminal charged, you need an attorney who will fight for you. From challenging the stop of your car to keeping a conviction off your record, our Drug and Alcohol attorneys will use our extensive knowledge of the criminal justice system to get the best resolution possible for your case. Contact the office today for a free consultation at 404.816.4440.