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Pennsylvania’s First Offense DUI Program (ARD)

Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) is a pre-trial intervention program. This avenue is only available to non-violent offenders who have no, or very little, prior record.

There are two specific goals of ARD: rehabilitating the offender and saving the commonwealth resources by eliminating the expense of a lengthy trial or other court proceedings. A third benefit is it speeds up the process for all parties involved. A defendant will waive their right to a preliminary trial to have their case considered for the ARD program.

For people charged with their first DUI, ARD could be a way to avoid more significant penalties and possible jail time. At Young, Marr & Associates, our experienced DUI defense attorneys are familiar with the benefits of ARD and other potential defenses. You should not take DUI lightly, even if it is your first offense and you have no prior record. Call our law offices in Pennsylvania at (215) 372-8667 and New Jersey at (609) 257-4019 to schedule an appointment to review your legal defense.

What is the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program?

DUI is one of the most common charges people are arrested for in Pennsylvania.  To put the issue into perspective, on average, there are 1,534 arrests per month — that’s nearly 50 DUI arrests every single day, minimum. The Pennsylvania State Police reports that in total, there were over 18,412 DUI arrests in Pennsylvania in 2020 alone.

Fortunately for some motorists facing a Pennsylvania DUI, there may be a way out of your charges.  If you qualify to participate in Pennsylvania’s unique ARD Program:

  • You do not have to plead guilty.
  • You will not be convicted.
  • The charges against you will be dismissed.

The ARD program is designed to serve as an early intervention to works towards preventing repeat offenses. By offering this program to eligible offenders, Pennsylvania removes cases from the criminal justice system, provides the means necessary to rehabilitate individuals, and allows the commonwealth the ability and freedom to allocate resources more beneficially. The program is intended to quickly resolve specific charges against defendants who are good candidates for rehabilitation.

Needless to say, ARD is an amazing opportunity for those who qualify.  But how do you qualify, and what else do you need to know about the program?  Our DUI defense lawyers have compiled this handy FAQ guide for you to use as your one-stop ARD resource.

How Do I Qualify for ARD in Pennsylvania?

ARD is not available to all DUI offenders.  In order to qualify, applicants must meet the following conditions:

  1. The applicant must have a clean record for the past 10 years.  An exception would be a first offense ungraded misdemeanor.
  2. The DUI charges under review must not involve death or serious injury to another motorist.

Additionally, if the DUI in question involved a passenger under 14 years of age, the applicant will be disqualified from consideration.

If the applicant has already been approved for ARD in the past, the chances of being accepted for ARD a second time are diminished.

Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition is often a great option for first offenders and people without a criminal history. However, as stated above, you must qualify for the program. There are some common reasons why an individual is ineligible for the ARD program.

  • You have been charged with a violent offense.
  • You have multiple prior convictions, one of which was within the previous ten years.
  • You have participated in the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program within the last ten years.
  • Your DUI arrest was for an accident where someone was injured or killed.
  • You had a passenger under the age of 14 in your vehicle at the time of your DUI arrest.
  • You have already been convicted of related charges.

Can My License Be Suspended If I Participate in the ARD Program?

The answer to this question depends on your BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) at the time of the incident.  The higher the BAC, the longer the license suspension will be.

  • BAC under 0.10%: no suspension
  • BAC between 0.10% and 0.16%: 30 days
  • BAC exceeding 0.16%: 60 days

There are several other factors not related to BAC which can also influence the terms of a license suspension.  For example:

  • Driver under 21 years old: 90 days
  • DUI with drugs: 60 days

How Do I Apply to the ARD Program in Pennsylvania?

If you are arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania, the first thing you need to do is contact a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney. It is important to explain exactly what occurred and do not omit any information or facts. Under no circumstances should you lie to your attorney.

At the preliminary hearing, your lawyer will talk with the arresting office to ensure they have no objections to you entering the ARD program. This is critical because one of the factors the District Attorney considers is the opinion of the arresting officer. If there is no objection, you will likely be advised to waive your hearing, allowing the case to proceed.

The preliminary hearing does not determine innocence or guilt. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is for the District Judge to determine whether there is enough evidence against the charged individual, and you will be able to see the evidence against you at this stage.

During the preliminary hearing, you will be ordered to attend what is called CRN (Court Reporting Network) evaluation. The CRN evaluation is a self-reporting alcohol evaluation, meaning you will have to answer questions and submit paperwork detailing your alcohol consumption. Depending on your CRN evaluation in conjunction with your BAC, you may be ordered to attend 16 to 32 hours of Alcohol Highway Safety Classes.  You may also be ordered to receive counseling, and may be required to perform community service and pay a fine of roughly $1,400.

Ultimately, acceptance into the ARD Program comes down to the District Attorney.  The DA has sole discretion in making this decision, which highlights how important it is for your case to be handled by an experienced attorney.

Factors the District Attorney Will Consider

As stated above, the ultimate decision regarding your eligibility for ARD rests with the District Attorney. If certain factors are present, a candidate will be automatically disqualified for the program. Nonetheless, the DA is permitted to consider other circumstances, including protection of society, violation of the public trust, and amenability to treatment when assessing your case.

The District Attorney will consider prior offense, both in and out-of-state. This also includes pending cases or juvenile charges. Typically, you will only be eligible with a prior offense if it is a misdemeanor. This includes a history of motor vehicle violations.

Restitution could derail your eligibility. If more than $1,000 in restitution is due, you will unlikely not be placed into the program.

What ARD Applicants Should Expect

In order to be accepted into Pennsylvania’s ARD program, defendants must agree to specific stipulated conditions based on the circumstances of their case. For example, this could include participation in an alcohol or drug abuse program, restitution, or community service.

You are not required to admit to any wrongdoing to apply to the program. However, you will have to plead guilty to any summary offenses, including motor vehicle violations. The court could assess fines, penalties, and court costs as additional penalties.

You should have our experienced Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys working with you doing the application process, including preparing the ARD application. Our office will also be able to offer a professional opinion as to whether ARD is in your best interests.

ARD Program Requirements

Under ARD, you will have to avoid any additional arrests during your probationary period. This probationary period is usually six months to one year, though in cases involving marijuana DUI it may be as brief as 30 days.  If you complete your probation without any arrests or incidents, the DA will drop the charges against you.

You can be removed from the ARD Program. The District Attorney has the authority to file a motion with the court requesting your removal from the program if you violate a condition of your ARD. Some of the more common violations are listed below.

  • Commission of an additional offense
  • Failure to pay the required restitution
  • Failure to attend or complete the mandated highway safety program
  • Failure to attend or complete any other required program, including substance abuse programs
  • Any other violation of the terms of your ARD

Once the DA files a motion to have you removed, a hearing will be scheduled and held. If the court finds that you violated any terms or conditions of your ARD, you could be removed from the program. If this occurs, the original DUI offense will be reinstated and the case will proceed as if the ARD never existed. If a motion has been filed, you should contact our law offices as soon as possible to start preparing a possible defense.

What to Expect While in the ARD Program

Once in the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program, you will be under a period of supervision. This part of the program is similar to probation. The maximum period of supervision under Pennsylvania law is two years. During this time, you will likely be required to attend an alcohol or drug abuse treatment program along with community service.

Remember, failure to comply with any conditions of your ARD could result in being removed from the program and facing your original DUI charges.

General Conditions

Everyone in the ARD program must comply with the same general conditions. You will be required to sign a form acknowledging that you understand and will adhere to these conditions. Some of these conditions could include the following:

  • One year prohibition
  • Regular meetings with your supervisor
  • Community service
  • Highway safety course
  • Mandated drug and alcohol testing
  • Paying fines and restitution
  • No use of drugs or alcohol
  • No further convictions

Any violation could result in the DA asking the court to consider your removal from the program.

Special Conditions

Depending on your case, you could also be subject to special conditions imposed by the District Attorney’s Office. These conditions are unique and will be based on the facts of your case and your particular needs. For example, you might be required to undergo a drug or alcohol evaluation, mental health treatment, or anger management classes. If you reject to any of the special conditions imposed, you will be rejected from the program. Once involved in ARD, failing to follow through with the special conditions will result in a recommendation to be removed from ARD.

Supervision

You will be ordered to undergo a period of supervision. Typically, the supervision period lasts for one year. The District Attorney’s Office will be responsible for ensuring you are in compliance with the program. An ARD supervisor will be assigned to your case. You will have to provide proof to your supervisor of the completion of any general or special conditions.

Reporting

Typically, ARD is non-reporting. Nonetheless, there could be circumstances where a participant is required to report. If an ARD participant is ordered to report, they will have to do so through the District Attorney’s Office and in a timely manner. Any violation will be submitted to the court along with a recommendation of removal.

Completing The ARD Program

After you have successfully completed your Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program, you are permitted to petition the court to have your original charges dismissed and expunged. However, you are required to wait 30 days.

Remember, if you fail to complete your ARD or are otherwise removed from the program, the original case will resume as if there was no diversion. Your case will be back on the docket and awaiting trial. Think of ARD as a temporary suspension that becomes permanent only upon completion.

The Pros and Cons Of Pennsylvania’s ARD Program

There are many benefits to successfully completing the ARD program. First, if you are able to expunge your original charges, you will not have a criminal record. If you entered the program because of a DUI and a motor vehicle violation, you will likely be facing shorter driving restrictions than you would have if you were convicted of a DUI. Probably the most significant benefit of a successfully completed ARD is the ability to legally and honestly answer “no” on a job application if asked if you were ever convicted of a crime.

There are few if any negatives in applying for and completing the ARD program. However, if you are convicted of the same offense, the ARD disposition will be considered a previous conviction for the purpose of determining if this charge is a second offense. In a DUI case, this could mean additional penalties and fines. In some cases, this means you are now facing potential minimum sentencing requirements, including possible jail time.

Am I Eligible for Expungement?

Although the DA will drop the charges against you once you successfully complete probation, you will still have a criminal record.  In other words, you will continue to have a “rap sheet” on file, including your fingerprints, your “mug shot,” and records of your arrest.  If you want to eliminate your rap sheet, you will need an expungement.

Fortunately, the DA does not generally oppose granting expungements for successful ARD cases.  To apply for an expungement, you must file a Motion for Expungement in the Court of Common Pleas.  If a judge approves your expungement, your rap sheet and the records of your arrest will be destroyed.

What to Do If Your Request for ARD Was Denied

If your request for ARD was denied, it does not necessarily mean you are out of options: you can make a request for the DA to reconsider the original decision.

You do not have a right to appeal an ARD denial. This means that you do not have the right to have a judge review the process and overrule the decision. However, you are permitted to send a request to the District Attorney to reconsider the denial. Our skilled Pennsylvania attorneys will be able to assist you in preparing a mitigation package. A mitigation package will include information that the District Attorney did not have access to when making the original determination. For example, a persuasive package could include your resume, transcripts, letters of recommendation, evidence of your involvement in the community, or other material that presents your character in a positive light. The purpose of the mitigation package is not to demonstrate you are a good person worthy and capable of rehabilitation. You want to show the District Attorney that the criminal behavior is outside your normal character and that you would benefit from the ARD program.

It is possible in some cases to have a denial reversed through an ARD reconsideration request. It is important to understand what type of information and evidence could sway the District Attorney. Our office will provide the guidance you need in building a mitigation package, emphasizing the documents and materials that will help your case. Unfortunately, there are cases where the DA will not consider the ARD program. In those situations, it is crucial to have competent legal counsel in your corner to either prepare a defense or work towards a manageable plea bargain.

Section 17 Probation in Pennsylvania

Section 17 of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act provides first-time offenders of non-violent drug offenses a similar program to ARD. Basically, a first-time offender has the possibility of serving probation and then having the charges dismissed. This program is commonly referred to as Probation Without Verdict (PWV).

Just like ARD, not every offender is eligible for the Pennsylvania Section 17 probation program. PWV is designed for individuals who are dependent on drugs and have the ability to demonstrate this dependence to the court. More specifically, Section 17 probation is intended to help people who have a drug problem, not just those people charged with a drug offense. If you have previous drug convictions on your record, either a felony or a misdemeanor, you will not qualify for this program. It is critical to have our experienced Pennsylvania drug possession defense attorneys representing you through the entire process.

Contact Our Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorneys to Review ARD and Other Options

The ARD Program is a unique opportunity for law-abiding individuals who made a one-time mistake to start with a clean slate. Do not let one transgression adversely impact the rest of your life. If you would like to speak with a Pennsylvania DUI lawyer about applying for the program, call Young, Marr & Associates at (609) 257-4019 in New Jersey or (215) 372-8667 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online to schedule a case evaluation.

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