February 02, 2011 | Posted in Criminal Defense

By Tim George
Erie, Edinboro & Meadville Criminal Defense Attorney

For a young person facing criminal allegations, the thought of a prison sentence (or even just a permanent criminal record) can be frightening. The uncertainty about the impact on your job (or your future employment) and your family makes things even worse. Fear of the unknown for someone facing criminal charges for the first time can be overwhelming. In other cases, your chosen career depends upon an aggressive and successful defense by a lawyer with proper experience. You, quite literally, have only one chance to get it right.

The more you know, the better. The better the information you receive, the better you can plan your case and your future. In Erie and Meadville Pennsylvania, for some people, some non-violent charges can be resolved without a trial, without a conviction and without prison. Even better, the charges can be dismissed and your record cleared if you qualify for a program known as ARD. But not everyone qualifies and, if you do, you still have to be on supervision, like probation, for a period of time. Watch the video to learn more.

What is ARD?

ARD is short for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. ARD is a pre-trial program designed to divert first-time, non-violent offenders from the criminal justice system. The ARD program suspends the formal criminal prosecution before trial on the condition that if you comply with certain conditions, such as making restitution, completing substance abuse treatment, maintaining employment and the like. You need not admit any wrongdoing when applying for ARD; however, you must plead guilty to any summary offenses (which, if you have any such charges, are usually traffic violations). A person who is accepted into an ARD program is placed on supervision, like probation. The Court also may impose costs and assessments, but not a fine. The maximum period of supervision for someone on ARD is two years. If you successfully complete the ARD program, the underlying criminal charges are dismissed and you are entitled to an expungement of the arrest record and of the ARD disposition.

The DA controls the eligibility requirements

The District Attorney controls admission into an ARD program, and has nearly unfettered discretion when formulating polices or criteria to determine which cases will be referred to the ARD program. This discretion is not unlimited, however, and in rare occasions, a District Attorney has been found to have abused that broad grant of discretion when refusing to recommend a particular accused for entry into the ARD program.

Conditions are generally not negotiable

The conditions imposed upon an accused are normally not negotiable and not subject to challenge. You, however, do not have to accept the conditions imposed by the Court. If you reject the conditions which would be imposed upon entry into the ARD program, the you may proceed to trial. The decision whether ARD is right for you is, therefore, something you should discuss at length with your lawyer after careful consideration of the evidence that is expected to be offered against you at trial, together with consideration of the nature and quality of your defenses.

Available before trial only

It is also important to recognize that ARD is a pre-trial diversion program, you may not apply for admission into an ARD program after conviction, in lieu of sentencing. Once an accused has gone to trial and is found guilty, admission into an ARD program is no longer an option.

What happens to someone who accepts ARD?

If you agree to be accepted into the ARD program, you must agree to be on supervision, much like probation. There will be a number of conditions, or obligations, placed upon you while you're on supervision. These obligations can include things like meeting regularly with a probation officer, maintaining employment, completing alcohol or substance abuse counseling, submitting to random urinalysis, attending educational programs, paying any restitution and paying all court costs and assessments. In some counties, you will be expected to sign a contract which sets forth each of the conditions placed upon you.

When the term of supervision is completed and all costs and assessments are paid, the case (which was suspended during the time that you participated in the ARD program) will be dismissed. Your record also will be expunged. How expungement works will be the subject of another article.

After you complete the term of probation and satisfy all of the conditions imposed upon you, your case will be dismissed.

Can you be removed from ARD?

Yes. The District Attorney may file a motion with the court seeking to remove an accused from the ARD program if you violate a condition of ARD. For example, if you are charged with or commit another offense set forth in either the Crimes Code, Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, or in 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1542; or if you fail to make required restitution; or if you fail to complete any other program mandated as a condition of ARD; or if you violate the terms and conditions of ARD in any other way.

The more you know, the better you can prepare your case, plan your future and reduce the anxiety caused by fear of the unknown. If you qualify for ARD and believe that you can fulfill the conditions of supervision, ARD just may be the right solution for you. If you don't qualify, then you need to know this up front in order to press an aggressive defense. Your future may depend on it.

Tim George has been a lawyer since 1992. He defends the freedom of people accused of criminal offenses in Erie, Meadville and through Northwestern Pennsylvania. For parents of local college students facing criminal charges for the first time, he takes additional time to explain how to avoid a permanent criminal record and remain eligible for Federal student loans after an arrest. For more information about him and a sampling of the cases he has handled, answers to frequently asked questions or directions to his office at 2525 West 26th Street, Suite 201, Erie, Pennsylvania, visit www.ErieCriminalDefenseLawyer.com. You may schedule a free office consultation by calling toll free (866) 794-2525 .

Tim George defends allegations of DUI, reckless driving, careless driving, accidents involving injury or property damage and other serious charges like homicide by motor vehicle, manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, retail theft, burglary, robbery, and sexual assault. He appears in Magisterial District Courts (often called Districe Justice offices) throughout Northwestern Pennsylvania, including Erie, Millcreek, Fairview, Girard, Albion, Springfield, Platea, McKean, Edinboro, Lawrence Park, Wesleyville, Harborcreek, North East, Corry, Meadville, Sandy Lake, Conneaut Lake, Franklin, Oil City and Warren. He has also defended people in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Crawford County, Warren County, Venango County, Mercer County, Clarion County and Jefferson County. He has argued cases on appeal before the Commonwealth Court, Superior Court and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.