What Are The Differences Between First Offenders & Repeat Offenders?
Interviewer: Here’s an important issue: do you have people that say, “Hey, it’s my first offense” – it’s just a low-level misdemeanor or disorderly person and they say, “Maybe I’ll just plead guilty and move on with my life and just forget about it”? Do you get a lot of people that have had a first offense years ago now they are looking at their second and now they are in a world of trouble because it is their second?
Ben Kelsen: Sure, that happens frequently. Very often people make mistakes when they are younger, they are in their late teens or early 20s or whatever it is, and they made a mistake. Now 15 years later they made another mistake for whatever reason, and now suddenly they are a repeat offender. What the state does have is what they call diversionary programs available to first time offenders, which basically would mean getting on probation for a certain amount of time and paying some fines with a dismissal afterwards – but you only get one shot at that.
So there may be a guy who had a case not long ago: when he was 19 he got stopped with some marijuana, he did a diversionary program, and now 15 or 16 years later he is really stressed out and some buddy offered him who-knows-what to relax or calm down and it was a foolish mistake to make, but he did it anyway and now he is a repeat offender.
So that can sometimes be a problem.
Interviewer: Is there a period where if you have a second offense but it’s been so long that it’s considered your first, or does it just depend on the offense or the time?
Ben Kelsen: It depends on what it is – you may not be eligible for the diversionary program – but there are times that prosecutors will take that into account and will look at that and think about that when they are dealing with the case. So they may look and say, “Look, this guy is not a repeat offender like some people who are repeat offenders.” So will take that into account.
For example, one client I have currently is 24-years-old and has six felony convictions. He is a repeat offender of a certain type. The guy who we just spoke about a moment or two ago – they may look at him and say, “Listen, technically speaking, he is a repeat offender but it’s clear that he is not a bad guy. He is just having a hard time right now.”