North Carolina’s First Offender Deferral Program

A criminal record comes with more than just fines and the potential for time behind bars. If you are convicted of a crime, you may also feel the impact throughout your life, when once endless job opportunities are now limited, when your options for housing are reduced, and even your pursuit for higher education or professional licensing may be restricted. Fortunately, first-time offenders often have a second chance thanks to North Carolina’s many diversion programs.

What is a diversion program?

A diversion program gives offenders an alternative option to the typical punishments associated with crime. Rather than being sentenced to jail time, diversion programs are intended to help educate and rehabilitate offenders, deterring individuals from re-offending, and providing individuals with an opportunity to take accountability for their actions without having to endure the lasting impact of a criminal record.

 Also called a deferral program, a diversion program defers sentencing through a conditioned deal with the prosecutor: the offender agrees to complete a list of program requirements and in exchange for the offender’s cooperation, the prosecutor agrees not to take the case through to formal sentencing. Successful program completion will result in a case dismissal. If the offender does not complete the program requirements, the prosecution will move forward to sentencing which means a criminal record and often results in jail time and other punishments.  

North Carolina law permits individuals charged with low-level felonies and misdemeanors to avoid conviction through the First Offenders Deferral Program. Essentially, this program is a probation program, which requires offenders to complete certain requirements while on probation. So long as the program requirements are completed timely and to the satisfaction of the court, the charges will be dismissed and eligible for expungement.  

What does a First Offenders Program entail?

Common requirements of the program include admitting guilt to the charged offense in court, attending classes or treatment relevant to the crime, paying a fine, completing random drug tests, and agreeing to enroll or continue attending school or secure and maintain employment. If the offender completes the program requirements under any time limits imposed, the prosecutor will dismiss the case against the offender. Dismissed charges are generally eligible for expungement, allowing the individual to erase their criminal record after completing the First Offenders Program.

Is diversion an option for me?

There must be a joint motion by the defendant and the prosecutor for an individual to avoid conviction through the First Offender Deferral Program. Generally, all misdemeanors and Class H and Class I felonies are eligible for diversion. Other qualifications include no prior felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions involving moral turpitude, and no history of probation or likelihood of committing another offense above a Class 3 misdemeanor. Additionally, before an offender can be released under this conditional discharge, all known victims of the offender’s crime must be notified and allowed to speak on the matter.

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