What is the Federal First Offenders Act (FFOA)?
Potentially strict sentences accompany most federal offenses if you are convicted, not to mention a criminal record that may follow you for life.
However, if you are facing certain federal drug charges and this is your first offense, you may be eligible for a reprieve of sorts thanks to a law known as the Federal First Offenders Act (FFOA). This law allows eligible first-time offenders to avoid a permanent criminal record and, potentially, prison time.
The FFOA is a probation program primarily designed to help rehabilitate first-time offenders rather than punish them. As the name of the law suggests, only people facing charges for the first time are eligible for the program. Once you enter the program, you will be placed on probation for some time.
Once the probation period ends, you can get the charges dismissed with no conviction or criminal record. Sometimes, the arrest and other details related to the case can be expunged. This means it never happened, and no one can access the case records.
To be eligible for FFOA and start the probation period, you must be found guilty of possession of a controlled substance, not have a prior conviction for violating a federal or state law related to a controlled substance, and not been offered treatment as a first offender under any federal or state program.
The court must also enter an order by a rehabilitative statute where the criminal proceedings are deferred or tolled until later.
Simply put, when you are convicted of a crime involving any substances in the Controlled Substance Act, you can be placed on probation for less than one year without entering a judgment. If you don't violate any terms of probation, the court can release you from probation and dismiss the charges. If you are under 21, the courts might expunge the record of the offense, and it will be removed from the public record.
Federal First Offenders Act - Explained
The FFOA, embodied in Title 18 U.S. Code Section 3607, is a federal statute allowing first-time drug offenders to avoid the harsh penalties typically associated with federal drug offenses.
The Act allows federal judges to impose probation instead of incarceration and remove the charge from the offender's criminal record upon successful completion of probation.
18 U.S.C. 3607 special probation and expungement procedures for drug possessors says “(a) Pre-judgment Probation. If a person found guilty of an offense described in section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 844),
(1) has not, prior to 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; with the consent of such person, the court may 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 in accordance with the provisions of section 3565.”
How Does the First Offenders Program Work?
The FFOA operates similarly to diversionary programs commonly offered to first-time offenders in many states. If you are found guilty of (or plead guilty to) a first-time violation of Section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act, most commonly, simple possession of a controlled substance, the judge has the authority to impose a "pre-judgment probation"—that is, placing you on probation without entering a judgment of your conviction.
This federal probation lasts one year or less, during which time you will be subject to certain conditions prescribed by the court. If you complete the probation without any violations, your charges will be dismissed with no conviction entered. All arrest records may be expunged if you were under 21 during the offense.
Who is Eligible for the FFOA?
Not all offenders will be eligible for FFOA. If you are to be considered eligible, all of the following must be true:
- You must be found guilty under Section 404 of the Controlled Substances Act or plead guilty as part of a plea arrangement;
- You must not have been previously convicted of a drug-related offense at either the federal or state level;
- You must not have been offered treatment as a first-time offender at either the federal or state level, meaning you have not participated in any other first-time offender program, and
- You must consent to probation when the judge offers it.
What is the Role of the Judge?
Participation in the FFOA program is not guaranteed even if you are eligible. The judge has the discretion to grant or deny FFOA treatment based on the following:
- Assessment of your character;
- The nature and circumstances of the offense; and
- The need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense;
- Promote respect for the law, provide just punishment, deter criminal conduct, and protect the public.
What Are the Implications of Accepting an FFOA Arrangement?
Probation under the FFOA comes with significant responsibilities, and you must comply with all program requirements during the probationary period. These responsibilities will include some or all of the following:
- Regular meetings with a probation officer;
- Mandatory appearance at any required court hearings;
- Periodic drug testing;
- Participation in a drug education or rehabilitation program;
- Fulfilling a certain amount of hours of community service;
- Avoiding further criminal acts, either state or federal;
Suppose you complete the probationary period (one year or less) while meeting all the conditions of your probation. In that case, your charges will be dismissed, and no conviction will appear on your criminal record.
What are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Subchapter A Probation has several federal statutes that are related to section 3607 special probation and expungement procedures for drug possessors, such as 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.
Will Completing the FFOA Completely Expunge My Record?
Not necessarily—although it will keep those records out of public view. When you complete probation under the FFOA, the judge issues what is known as a "Record of Disposition," a non-public record of your conviction that the Department of Justice maintains only to determine your eligibility for FFOA if you are charged with further crimes. The disposition will not be public or appear on criminal background checks.
What Are the Consequences of Violating the Terms of Your FFOA Probation?
If you fail to meet the conditions of your probation, the judge may enter a judgment against you and impose all applicable penalties authorized by law. If this happens, you will be considered convicted of the original offense and face sentencing as if you had received no FFOA arrangement.
If you are entering the FFOA program, you must understand that if you violate the conditions of probation, the courts can impose a sentence. When this occurs, you can face the same penalties they would have if they had not been placed on probation.
If you were charged with a federal drug-related crime, you might be eligible to enter the FFOA program. Our federal criminal defense lawyers can explain all of your options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.
- Defending Drug Trafficking and Sales Cases in Federal Court
- Defending Federal Money Laundering Charges
- Continuing Criminal Enterprise
- Federal Drug Conspiracy
- Federal Drug Manufacturing
- International Drug Crimes
- Prescription Drug Fraud
- The Controlled Substances Act
- Federal First Offender Act
- 18 U.S.C. 3607 - Special Probation for Drug Possessors
- 18 U.S.C. Part II, Chapter 229 Subchapter A: Probation