Can First-Time Offenders Avoid Having a Criminal Record?

In most cases, legal forms of punishment like a jail sentence or probation are not intended to be permanent. However, even minor crime convictions come with one very permanent effect: a criminal record. Your criminal record follows you for the rest of your life, and it can prevent you from getting jobs, renting apartments, being accepted to universities, and other things that can seriously impact your ability to succeed in life. It's always best to avoid having a criminal record if you can, which is why it may be a bad idea to plead guilty or no-contest even if you think that the evidence is against you. Take a look at some ways that first-time offenders can avoid a criminal record.


Most people think of mediation as a way to avoid a lawsuit. But in some jurisdictions, mediation can be used to avoid criminal charges as well. Private mediation can sometimes be an option for defendants who are accused of committing a minor crime, like trespassing or vandalism. In order for mediation to be an option, the person pressing the charges has to agree to it.

For example, if your neighbor accuses you of vandalizing their property, your attorney could ask the court to refer you to a private mediator. If the court and the neighbor both agree, you and your neighbor would sit down with a mediator and come to an agreement. You might agree to pay for the damages, for instance. If you and your neighbor come to an agreement, the court could dismiss the charge against you, and you wouldn't have a criminal record.


Pre-trial diversion is a strategy used for a number of minor charges, like shoplifting, writing a bad check, or even a first-time DUI. The way pre-trial diversion usually works is that the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to the charges, and the judge withholds adjudication of the conviction. When a judge withholds adjudication, it means that you have not been formally convicted of the crime.

The judge will usually give the defendant some requirements to meet. You may be placed on probation, required to complete community service, or ordered to pay fines or restitution. If you fulfill the requirements within the time frame specified by the court and don't get into any further legal trouble in the meantime, the court will dismiss the charge, and the conviction won't stay on your record.


Treatment may be an option if the crime was drug or alcohol related. Courts are starting to realize that drug and alcohol addictions are often beyond the addict's ability to control and that many addicts can benefit more from treatment for the addiction than from punishment for the crime. Treatment may also be an option if the person who committed the crime is mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

The state of Ohio has a program called Intervention in Lieu of Conviction (IILC) that is a good example. Eligible offenders are assessed by a social worker, addiction counselor, or mental health professional, who will provide a treatment plan to the court. If the court agrees, the offender enters a treatment program without being convicted. If the offender participates in the treatment program, submits to drug testing, and complies with any other requirements set by the court for 12 months, their charges are dismissed.

If you're a first-time offender, one of these options could help you avoid a criminal record that could follow you forever. A criminal-defense lawyer from a firm such as Kalasnik Law Office will be aware of the options for avoiding a criminal record in your jurisdiction that you might be eligible for.