A "first offender" program is a type of diversion, but only for those who have no previous criminal record (usually traffic tickets don’t count, but defendants with juvenile offenses may be disqualified). Defendants who can often be placed in the first offender program include:
Defendants charged with driving under the influence. Most programs limit participation to those whose blood alcohol level was below a certain threshold, to those whose license was valid at the time of arrest, and for those who did not have a child in the car at the time.
Juveniles charged with specific crimes. Juveniles and their parents may be asked to participate in the counseling sessions together.
Those charged with domestic abuse or violence. A few states operate programs for these defendants, offering anger management programs and individual, marital, and family therapy.
Those charged with prostitution and first-time "johns." The SAGE Project, based in San Francisco and replicated in many other cities, uses its First Offender Prostitution Project to remove women from commercial sexual exploitation and to educate johns.
The Federal First Offender Program
People who have been convicted of or are charged with certain federal drug crimes may be eligible for the federal diversion program, described in the Federal First Offender Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 3607. To be eligible, the defendant must not have prior state or federal convictions concerning controlled substances. A person can participate in the federal program only one time.
Defendants who enter the program plead guilty or have been found guilty, but their judgment of conviction is not officially “entered” into the record. After a year of probation, if the defendant has completed its terms successfully, the court will dismiss the proceedings without entering the judgment of conviction. But if the defendant violates probation, the case will proceed with the entry of the judgment and sentencing. For successful probationers, the case "shall not be considered a conviction."
Defendants who were younger than twenty-one years of age at the time of the offense, and who successfully complete probation, will see the record of their case expunged, or sealed. They may truthfully answer “No” to any questions about the case, even the arrest itself. The Department of Justice will maintain a nonpublic record of the case, for use by the courts when determining the person’s eligibility for future diversions under this program.