First Time Offenders: A Brief Overview of the ARD Program in Pennsylvania
ARD is an acronym for the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. If ARD is approved by the District Attorney, you will not have to admit guilt, and the charges are eventually dismissed after certain conditions such as classes, treatment, community service, payment of fines and a probationary period. There is no mandatory jail time and once the charges are dismissed, a Motion for Expungement can be filed resulting in all of the charges being officially removed from your record, including your “rap sheet”, fingerprints and mug shot. As a former Senior Deputy District Attorney, I approved over 1,500 people for ARD, and as a defense attorney, I have assisted well over 2,500 clients gain admission into this beneficial program. Admission into the ARD program is determined solely by the District Attorney and as such, your attorney’s relationship with the District Attorney is extremely important. Under the law, the judge has absolutely no say as to whether someone gets ARD - that decision is left entirely up to the discretion of the District Attorney.
Application for ARD is usually made at the Preliminary Hearing. After the Hearing, if the case is DUI, you will be ordered to attend a self-reporting alcohol evaluation called a CRN evaluation. The results of this evaluation determine the length of Alcohol Highway Safety Classes (typically 16 or 32 hours) and if deemed necessary, you may have to attend alcohol counseling, such as outpatient treatment or Alcoholics Anonymous.
If ARD is denied, it is possible to request that the DA Reconsider his decision. In this situation, your attorney’s relationship with the District Attorney is of the utmost importance. Generally, I send a detailed letter to the DA requesting reconsideration, listing the reasons why my client should have the benefit of the ARD program, along with character letters and other supporting documentation. Sometimes, I will call the arresting officer and ask him to personally call the DA to “put in a good word” for my client in an attempt to convince the DA to reconsider. I do this because when I was an Assistant DA, when a police officer took the time to call me personally, I gave his opinion great weight because he knew the case better than I. It has been my experience that most police officers are more than willing to assist first time offenders who were cooperative. This exact situation occurred to one of my clients and the police officer literally sat outside the District Attorney’s office and waited until the assigned DA walked by to speak with him about ARD (the officer left the DA several messages previously but did not receive a return call). This is not a typical situation, but this particular police officer disagreed with the DA’s decision to deny my client ARD and the District Attorney eventually changed his mind and admitted my client into the ARD program.
ARD is a program designed for people who are not criminals. It is meant for people who made a bad decision and did not seriously harm anyone as a result of their actions. It is a program designed to divert first time offenders out of the criminal justice system and teach them a lesson so they do not repeat the same behavior in the future.Section 17 Probation
Section 17 is a program similar to ARD in that the criminal charges eventually are dismissed and are eligible for expungement. Section 17 is used primarily for drug crimes under the Controlled Substances Act for offenses such as Possession of a Controlled Substance, Possession of Marijuana or Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. This program usually consists of a conditional plea of guilty or plea of no contest. After a period of probation, the charges are dismissed and can be expunged. Some counties will assign a probation officer and you would be subject to drug testing. If an individual does not complete the conditions of Section 17, then the case automatically is converted to a conviction.Other First Time Offender Programs
Depending on which county you are charged in, there may be other types of first time offender programs available to you, which is why retaining an experienced local attorney is so important. Some counties have a program where you appear in front of a community board rather than a judge. Other counties require community service and the charges are dropped once the service is complete. Each county has programs specific to that particular county and local attorneys will be more familiar with the beneficial programs that may be available to you.