For someone 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.
The more you know, the better. The better the information you receive, the better you can plan your case and your future. In Pennsylvania, for some people, criminal allegations 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.
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 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, 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.
Some factors that prevent ARD
While 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1552 requires that each county in Pennsylvania have an ARD program for people accused of DUI, there are a number of things that prohibit someone from being considered for ARD under Pa.C.S.A. § 3807(a)(2), including:
1. The accused has been found guilty of or accepted ARD of a charge brought under Section 3802 within ten (10) years of the date of the current offense unless the charge was for an ungraded misdemeanor under Section 3802(a)(2) and was the accused's first offense under Section 3802.
2. An accident occurred in connection with the events surrounding the current DUI offense and an individual other than the accused was killed or suffered serious bodily injury as a result of the accident.
3. There was a passenger under 14 years of age in the motor vehicle the accused was operating.
In addition, there are a whole host of other factors that can prevent admission into the ARD program. These factors vary from county to county.
Recent changes in the law
There are some important differences between the new Pennsylvania DUI law which became effective February 11, 2004 and the old law. The major changes include the so-called "look back" period for prior DUI convictions or ARDs. The "look back" period under the new law is now 10 years, as opposed to seven years under former Section 3731(d). Another important change in the law is the new prohibition allowing a motorists into ARD if they had a passenger in the vehicle who was under 14 years of age. No longer a disqualifying factor is the commission of another offense involving DUI that amounts to a violation of any of the offenses set forth in 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1542 (relating to habitual offenders).
The mere fact that an accused is not excluded from ARD consideration by any of the prohibitions set forth in 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3807(a)(2) does not entitle the accused to ARD. The prohibitions set forth in Section 3807(a)(2) are only the minimum criteria and a District Attorney is free to establish more stringent criteria for recommending certain cases for ARD.
Should you seek ARD on a DUI charge?
In short, just because you meet the eligibility requirements for the ARD program in a particular county does not mean that you should automatically seek ARD. A number of factors should be considered by both you and your lawyer when determining whether ARD is the best course of action for you. Some of those factors include: (1) the strength of the Commonwealth's case; (2) the weaknesses of your case; (3) the particular circumstances of your violation and DUI arrest; (4) the importance of avoiding jail; (5) your prior record; and (6) your personal circumstances and situation. The decision whether to seek admission into an ARD program is ultimately yours, and that decision should only be made after your lawyer has fully informed you of the options available and the consequences of each.
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 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. Such examples of grounds for removal include:
1. 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;
2. You fail to make required restitution;
3. You fail to complete the mandated highway safety school program;
4. You fail to complete any other program mandated as a condition of ARD; or
5. You violate the terms and conditions of ARD in any other way.
A hearing is then held on the District Attorney's motion for removal from ARD and, if the Court finds that the accused has violated any conditions of ARD, the Court may remove the accused from ARD. At that point, the underlying DUI prosecution is reinstated and the case proceeds as if it had never been diverted to the ARD program.
The more you know, the better you can prepare your case, plan your future and reduce the anxiety caused by fear of the unknown. In Pennsylvania, the consequences of a conviction for DUI are far reaching and the effects can be long lasting. If you qualify for ARD and believe that you can fulfill the conditions of supervision, ARD just may be the right solution for you.
Tim George has been a lawyer since 1992. He defends the freedom of people accused of criminal offenses and DUI in Erie and through Northwestern Pennsylvania. 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 200, 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 District 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.