In Virginia, if you are charged with Domestic Assault and Battery (Virginia Code Section 18.2-57.2) and have no previous convictions for this offense you may be entitled to relief from conviction under Virginia Code Section 18.2-57.3, commonly referred to as the “First Offender Program”. We would recommend that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney in order to discuss the details of the program, as well as your eligibility. Here are a few quick points:
How do I get into the First Offender Program?
- If you are eligible for first offender, and have been found guilty of domestic assault and battery (whether through pleading guilty, or following a trial), you can ask the Court to allow you to enter into the first offender program.
- If the Court grants your request, your case will be continued for at least 2 years. You will be placed on “probation” and will be obligated to perform various tasks.
What will I be required to do during probation?
- Complete an assessment/evaluation through the local probation agency and abide by the treatment/educational programs recommended by the results of such assessment/evaluation, as well as any programs the Court may require.
- Frequently, you will be required to complete an anger management course.
- If the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense, it is common for the Court or probation officer to require the defendant to undergo random drug/alcohol screens.
- Make reasonable efforts to secure and/or maintain employment.
- Keep the Peace and Be of Good Behavior: if you get new charges during the period of probation, you will likely violate the terms of the program.
- Pay the costs of the program: the costs will differ based on your financial status.
What happens if I do everything that is asked of me?
- Your case will likely be dismissed after the probation period ends (usually 2 years).
Note: Be honest with yourself before committing to participate in the program. 2 years is a long time to be on probation and certain obligations can be difficult to complete—especially if you are juggling raising a family and a full-time job. If you are someone who enjoys a few adult beverages on occasion, ask your attorney about the likelihood of being subject to random alcohol screens. Positive alcohol screens cause a lot of people to flunk the program, which usually results in a conviction and can also lead to severe punishment (some Judges are bothered when a person doesn’t take full advantage of this “second-chance”). Nevertheless, I would urge you not to be deterred—dedicate yourself to the program and you will be glad that you did. When the Judge dismisses your case, it will be worth it in the end.