An arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs can be one the most humiliating and scary moments of a person’s life. I have advised plenty of clients who thought that as a result of a DUI they would be sent to prison, lose their job, or have their children taken away. While it is true that in Pennsylvania penalties for certain DUI offenses can be harsh, such as when someone causes an accident when driving drunk or is a repeat offender, for the person without any prior DUI convictions, there exists a program that can provide him/her a second chance at a criminal record-free life after a first DUI arrest.
It is called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.
Commonly referred to as ARD, the program was designed to divert first-time offenders from the overcrowded penal system and to speed up the court process for one of Pennsylvania’s most common criminal offenses. With the rate of recidivism for DUI offenders going through the roof in the 1980’s, the idea was that instead of clogging up the prisons with drunks and drug addicts, the judicial system could attempt to address the real problem by treating an offender’s addiction and/or poor decision-making abilities, so as to keep them out of the system thereafter. Meanwhile, offenders who just made a REALLY bad choice one night, wouldn’t have their lives turned upside down, their clean records blemished, and their employment jeopardized. It is a program unique to Pennsylvania and one that has been very effective.
Here is how it works: Entry onto ARD is NOT a guilty plea. Rather, it is an agreement between the offender and the District Attorney to abide by certain terms and conditions for a set period of time, while holding the charges in abeyance (meaning over the offender’s head).
At the preliminary hearing, the District Attorney has the sole discretion to offer a first-time DUI offender, who either has no prior criminal record or only has a non-violent, non-drug related prior conviction, entry to the ARD program. Upon the case being bound over to the county court, the offender fills out an application and schedules a CRN evaluation, which is an intake evaluation with drug and alcohol treatment provider. The evaluator then submits a report with recommendations as to treatment options to the District Attorney and the court.
Based on those recommendations, the court will place the offender on probation for not less than six (6) months and no longer than one (1) year, during which time the offender must remain arrest-free, complete the Alcohol Highway Safety Course, participate in any treatment the CRN evaluator recommends, have their driver’s license suspended for thirty (30) days, and pay all court costs and probation fees.
If the offender completes the program without any violations, the DUI charges are dismissed and the arrest record expunged. Expungement means that no ordinary citizen or employer will ever know that an offender was arrested for DUI, only law enforcement and the courts will have knowledge of the arrest. The only caveat is that if an ARD graduate is arrested on a second DUI later in life, that charge will still count as a second offense and the offender will be subject to increased penalties on that charge.
However, if the offender does not abide by the terms and provisions of the program by either not participating in treatment, being arrested for another crime, or violating probation, the court will remove the offender from ARD and the charges will again become active, meaning that the offender will either have to go to trial or plead guilty and be sentenced on the DUI. If this happens, the offender can face up to one (1) year in prison, depending on the severity of the DUI charge, have their driver’s license suspended for one (1) year, pay thousands of dollars in fines and costs, and have a publicly accessible criminal record for the rest of their lives.
Again, entry into the ARD program is NOT automatic. This option remains at the sole discretion of the District Attorney. Those who meet the requirements will still need an experienced lawyer to negotiate and ensure entry into the program. I am experienced in negotiating ARD’s and provide affordable flat fees to first-time offenders. Contact the Law Office of Hank J. Clarke for a FREE consultation today.