First time offenders are often confused about the criminal justice system and the long term consequences of a criminal conviction or even an arrest. Our law firm represents a lot of individuals in this situation and it’s important to keep in mind that these individuals are often in the best position to win their case at trial through an acquittal because of their good character alone. Remember that there is a specific point of charge following a criminal trial that allows a fact finder (judge or jury) to find reasonable doubt (not guilty) based on good character alone.
Obviously, however, not all criminal cases go to trial and non-trial alternatives are sometimes a good way to proceed for a person charged with a crime and concerned about how it will affect future job opportunities or other goals. There are a number of non-trial alternative diversion programs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and one of the most common is the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition Program (ARD).
Similar to the AMP program, the ARD program is reserved for first time offenders charged with minor offenses. One of the most common offenses for the ARD program is DUI. The benefit of ARD for a DUI charge is that it can result in much less of a license suspension (60 days as opposed to one year) and in some cases, no license suspension at all (3802 (a)(1) without accident). Like other diversion programs, acceptance into the ARD program isn’t a guarantee but at the discretion of the district attorney’s office.
A person who seeks entry into the ARD program must waive their right to a speedy trial under Rule 600. The benefits of the ARD program include the expungement of an arrest and criminal record. A person should only enter this program if they have evaluated all of their options at trial with their criminal defense lawyer. If the defendant is accepted into the ARD program, the conditions of the program include payment of court costs, community service, Alcohol Highway Safety School classes (DUI only), and restitution. Non-DUI ARD defendants’ may have to complete a program like anger management if the arrest involved some type of minor crime involving the use of force or a threat (terroristic threats, simple assault). In addition to the conditions of ARD, a person in the program is on probation for a period from 6 months but not more than 2 years. The length of that probation is based on the nature of the crime and the charges. If a person fails to complete any of the conditions or is arrested while on probation, the DA’s office can consider it a violation of the ARD program and have the person removed from it. If this were to happen, the defendant’s case would proceed to trial, where obviously the person would maintain all their rights, including the most important—the presumption of innocence.
The most common reasons why a person doesn’t complete ARD are as follows:
- Arrested for another crime
- Failure to make required restitution payments
- Failure to complete mandated classes (anger management, Alcohol Highway Safety School, drug treatment or classes).
ARD & Expungement
If a person successfully completes ARD they are eligible for an expungement but remember that the expungement is not automatic and your criminal defense attorney must file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas to clean your record. A petition for expungement is a separate proceeding; never assume that a lawyer has filed one simply because you retained his services to represent in the original criminal case.
Conclusion –Do you need a lawyer?
While many may say that “you don’t need a lawyer to get into ARD”, you should never assume or take the advice of a person whose situation may be completely different from your own.
Something such as failing to waive your right to a speedy trial or failing to properly complete an ARD application could cause a DA’s office not to accept you into the ARD program. While your case may still resolve favorably for you (acquittal), ARD is a guaranteed result, which is often a great option, especially if there’s a strong possibility that you will be convicted based on the evidence in your case. A criminal charge, or even an arrest, can negatively affect a person’s ability to obtain certain positions or even qualify for certain academic internship programs, especially those involving children (teaching or coaching) or the elderly (nursing or healthcare. For more information contact our office or send me an email. If ARD isn’t an option, please check out my article on that issue to understand your options. Also take some time to visit our free download section!