According to Georgia Supreme Court records:
In Mondays’s unanimous opinion, Justice David Nahmias writes that both the Georgia Court of Appeals and the superior court in Catoosa County correctly ruled that because the man pleaded guilty to eight different offenses alleged in four separate indictments and accusations. He could only be given first offender status if he was charged in only one indictment, not four separate indictments.
Georgia’s first offender statute states: “No person may avail himself or herself of this article on more than one occasion.”
“‘One’ means one…,” today’s opinion says. “By saying that ‘[n]o person may avail himself or herself of this article on more than one occasion,’ §42-8-60(b) proscribes courts from granting the benefit of first offender treatment to a person more than one time.”
The case involves Carl David Higdon, who in November 2010, pleaded guilty to eight felony and misdemeanor offenses. The first formal accusation was filed Jan. 27, 2010 in Catoosa County and charged Higdon with a felony count of deposit account fraud for delivering a bad check Feb. 5, 2009 in exchange for $850 in cash, plus two misdemeanor counts for delivering two bad checks Feb. 21, 2009, for $535 and $214 in exchange for jewelry. The second formal accusation was filed the same day as the first, and charged Higdon with three additional misdemeanor counts for allegedly writing three bad checks on three different dates for a microwave and iron, a mattress and foundation and a $150 reservation for use of the Fort Oglethorpe City swimming pool. The third accusation in Catoosa County was filed Aug. 23, 2010 and charged Higdon with misdemeanor theft by taking for allegedly stealing a utility trailer. In a fourth charging document, filed April 6, 2010 in Walker County, Higdon was indicted for felony burglary for burglarizing a house in December 2009.
Higdon pleaded guilty to all these charges during one hearing, and his attorney asked the Catoosa County judge to sentence him in all of them as a first offender. Under the state’s First Offender Act, once a defendant has fulfilled the terms of his first offender punishment – whether probation or prison – he is discharged without having a criminal conviction on his record. The purpose is to allow first-time offenders with no prior felony convictions the chance to rehabilitate themselves without the stigma of a criminal record.
The trial judge refused Higdon’s request, saying he had no authority to treat him as a first offender in all four cases but offering instead to sentence him as a first offender in one of them. Higdon, who received 10 years probation for his crimes, refused and appealed to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s ruling. It stated Higdon was entitled to first offender treatment on only “one occasion,” which it defined as “one or more offenses set forth in one charging instrument.” In Higdon’s case, the Court of Appeals ruled, each accusation and the indictment represented “one occasion” and he therefore did not qualify for first offender treatment except on one.
In today’s opinion, the high court agrees. “In sum,” the opinion states, “we hold that once a ‘verdict or plea of guilty or a plea of nolo contendere’ has been entered on a charging instrument, and the trial court grants a defendant first offender status for the offense or offenses alleged in that instrument, the defendant has availed himself of the first offender article on ‘one occasion’ and may not benefit from it as to a sentence entered on another indictment or accusation.”