Barnes, John Ross Bartholomew IV, Decatur, for Appellant.
Marie Holmes, Amelia Greeson Pray, D. Victor Reynolds,
Marietta, John Stuart Melvin, for Appellee.
P. J., GOBEIL and HODGES, JJ.
Anthony Coleman appeals his conviction for making a false
statement, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his
motion for an order of exoneration and restriction of access
to his criminal records under Georgias First Offender Act
because his sentence was ambiguous. For the reasons set forth
infra, we affirm.
a jury trial, Coleman was convicted of one count of making a
false statement, but acquitted of the remaining counts in the
indictment. And on May 16, 2016, Coleman was sentenced to
five years of probation and a fine of $1,000. Then, on August
22, 2018, Coleman filed a "Motion to Terminate Probation
and Enter An Order of Exoneration and [a] Motion Pursuant to
[OCGA] § 42-8-62.1 to Restrict Access to the Criminal
Records in the Above-Styled Case." In the motion,
Coleman alleged that he had completed his required community
service, paid $750 of the fine and was prepared to pay the
balance, and had been released for active probation
supervision. Coleman also claimed that he had no prior
criminal record before the sentence imposed in this case, and
that he had faithfully performed the statutory requirements
necessary for the court to grant his requests. In sum,
Coleman contended that his "probation should be
terminated and a conditional discharge/first offender should
be entered pursuant to [OCGA] § 42-8-60 as not guilty[,]
" and "[a]ccess to the conditional
discharge/first[-]offender sentence should be restricted
pursuant to [OCGA] § 42-8-62.1 (b) (1)."
trial court held a hearing on Colemans motion, at which the
State did not oppose his request to terminate probation. But
Colemans other requests were based on his alleged status as
a first offender, and the State disputed that he was
sentenced as a first offender. In response, Coleman argued
that his sentencing order was ambiguous as to whether he was
adjudicated guilty or sentenced as a first offender and that
this ambiguity must be resolved in his favor. The State
disagreed, contending, inter alia, that the
sentencing form was not ambiguous and the court was not
authorized to sentence Coleman as a first offender because he
was ineligible for such status at the time his sentence was
entered. Ultimately, the trial court granted Colemans
request to terminate his probation, but denied his other
requests. This appeal follows.
sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in
denying his motion for an order of exoneration and
restriction of access to his criminal records under the First
Offender Act because his sentence was ambiguous and should be
construed in his favor. We disagree.
indicated by the title of the First Offender Act, defendants
are not entitled to be sentenced as a first offender more
than once. And here, while Coleman alleged in his
motion that he had no prior criminal record,
at his 2016 sentencing hearing, his trial counsel informed
the court, without prompting, that Coleman was ineligible for
first-offender status. Specifically, in his closing argument,
Colemans counsel stated: "I dont know how many times
[Coleman] got arrested, but he has one prior conviction.
Unfortunately[,] he used his first offender in that, so hes
not eligible for first offender. So by this sentence[,] ...
he would be a convicted felon ." Thus, Coleman
admitted that the trial court was not authorized to sentence
him under the Act because he had been given first-offender
status in a prior proceeding. But regardless of whether
Coleman qualified for first-offender status, his sentencing
form unambiguously shows that he was not sentenced as a first
Turning to the merits of his argument on appeal, Coleman is
correct that sentences for criminal offenses should be
"certain, definite, and free from ambiguity; and [when]
the contrary is the case, the benefit of the doubt should be
given to the accused." And here, Coleman
contends that the following language on the sentencing form
creates an ambiguity as to whether he was sentenced as a
first offender: "The Defendant is adjudged guilty
or sentenced under First Offender/Conditional
Discharge for the above-stated offense(s)
...." But this sentence merely establishes
that Coleman was either being adjudged guilty or
sentenced as a first offender, not both. Moreover, this
statement is entirely consistent with Georgia law because
when a defendant is sentenced as a first offender,
"there is no adjudication of guilt [and] there is no
conviction." Additionally, the sentencing form
indicates, in bold print, that the "[d]isposition]"
of the charged offense is "Guilty." And while the
box on the form indicating the defendant was being sentenced
as a repeat offender is not checked, neither was the box
indicating the defendant was a first offender. In sum,
because a first-offender sentence is not an adjudication of
guilt and Colemans sentencing form indicates that he was
being convicted of the charged offense, the form was not
ambiguous as to whether Coleman received first-offender
status, as it made clear that he did not.
these reasons, we affirm the trial courts denial of
Colemans motion for an order of exoneration and to ...