Federal First Offenders Act (FFOA)
Under the Federal First Offender Act (FFOA), first-time offenders are eligible for special probation programs instead of a prison sentence. After felony probation is completed, the charge and the arrest can be expunged.
A “first-time offender” has no prior criminal history and has been convicted for the first time of a crime. Since they have never been convicted, they can argue there are mitigating factors throughout the legal process to receive leniency from the federal court, which can give them a fresh start.
However, not every first-time offender is eligible to participate in the program. To qualify, they must be found guilty of simple possession of a controlled substance, have not committed before a similar state or federal drug offense, and have never previously been offered a first-offender treatment of any kind.
Simply put, suppose you are convicted of a crime under section 404 of the Controlled Substance Act. In that case, the federal court could place you on probation for up to one year without entering a judgment.
If you do not violate any probation terms, the judge can dismiss the case and discharge you from probation. If you are younger than 21 when the crime occurred, the court can order an expungement to remove all official records. Suppose you violate the terms of probation. In that case, you could face resentencing and be sent to federal prison.
Federal drug offenses often carry harsh sentences and a life-long criminal record. However, if you are a “first-timer” facing certain drug charges, you might be eligible for a break under the Federal First Offenders Act (FFOA). Still, some conditions must be met, with serious consequences if you violate the court's terms. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
FFOA – Quick Facts
There are several essential facts you should consider about the Federal First Offenders Act, such as the following:
- This statute allows eligible first-time offenders to avoid prison and have a permanent criminal record.
- This probation program is mainly designed to help rehabilitate first-time offenders rather than punish them.
- Only people facing charges for the first time are eligible for the program.
- The FFOA is like diversionary programs commonly offered to first-time offenders in many states.
- The judge can impose a "pre-judgment probation," placing you on probation without entering a judgment of your conviction.
- Once in the program, you will be on probation for less than one year.
- After the probation period ends, you could get the criminal charges dismissed with no conviction or criminal record.
- In some cases, such as under 21 arrests, you can get the case expunged.
- To be eligible, you must be found guilty of possessing a controlled substance, have no prior convictions, and have never been offered a similar state or federal program.
- The court must enter an order by a rehabilitative statute where the criminal proceedings are deferred or tolled until later.
Defining the Federal First Offenders Act (FFOA)
The FFOA is defined under 18 U.S. Code 3607 special probation and expungement procedures for drug possessors. As noted above, it allows first-time drug offenders to avoid the harsh penalties that are typically connected to federal drug crimes.
18 U.S.C. 3607 says, “(a) Pre-judgment Probation. If a person is found guilty of an offense described in section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 844),
(1) has not, before the commission of such offense, been convicted of violating a Federal or State law relating to controlled substances; and
(2) has not previously been the subject of a disposition under this subsection; the court may, with such person's consent, place him on probation for a term of not more than one year without entering a judgment of conviction.
At any time before the expiration of the term of probation, if the person has not violated a condition of his probation, the court may, without entering a judgment of conviction, dismiss the proceedings against the person and discharge him from probation. At the expiration of the term of probation, if the person has not violated a condition of his probation, the court shall, without entering a judgment of conviction, dismiss the proceedings against the person and discharge him from probation. If the person violates a condition of his probation, the court shall proceed by the provisions of section 3565."
Who is Eligible for the FFOA?
To be eligible for FFOA, you must meet all the following conditions:
- Found guilty under Section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act, or
- Plead guilty as part of a plea arrangement.
- No prior convictions for a state or federal drug-related offense.
- You have never been offered treatment as a first-time offender, meaning you have not participated in any other first-time offender program.
- Consent to probation when the judge offers it.
Suppose you are eligible for the FFOA treatment program. The judge could still grant or deny participation after assessing your character and considering the crime's nature.
Judges will also consider the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense and promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, deter criminal conduct, and protect the public.
If you complete FFOA, your records may not be expunged, but they will be kept out of public view. The judge will issue a “record of disposition," a non-public record of the conviction that the DOJ maintains only to determine eligibility for FFOA if you are charged with further crimes. Notably, the disposition will not be public or appear on criminal background checks.
What are the FFOA's Responsibilities?
Probation under the FFOA carries significant responsibilities. You must comply with all program requirements during the probationary period, including the following:
- Regular meetings with a probation officer,
- Appear at any required court hearings,
- Periodic drug testing,
- Participate in a drug education or rehabilitation program,
- Complete a certain number of hours of community service.
Suppose you complete the probationary period, one year or less while fulfilling all the conditions of probation. In that case, your criminal charges will be dismissed, and no conviction will appear on your criminal record.
What are the Related Federal Statutes?
18 U.S. Code Subchapter A Probation has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S.C. 3607 special probation and expungement procedures for drug possessors, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 3601 – Supervision of probation;
- 18 U.S.C. 3602 – Appointment of probation officers;
- 18 U.S.C. 3603 – Duties of probation officers;
- 18 U.S.C. 3604 – Transportation of a probationer;
- 18 U.S.C. 3605 – Transfer of jurisdiction over a probationer;
- 18 U.S.C. 3606 – Arrest and return of a probationer;
- 18 U.S.C. 3608 – Drug testing of Federal offenders on post-conviction release.
What If You Violate FFOA Probation?
Suppose you fail to meet all the conditions of your probation. In that case, the federal judge could enter a judgment against you and impose all the penalties. If this occurs, you are convicted of the original crime and will face sentencing as if you had never received any FFOA arrangement.
Suppose you are considering whether to enter an FFOA program. In that case, you need to understand that if you violate probation, the courts will typically impose a sentence that could include the same penalties you would have received if not placed on probation.
If you have been charged with a federal drug-related crime, you could be eligible to enter the FFOA program. Contact our federal criminal defense attorneys to review the legal options. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, California.