To be eligible for Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, you must be a non-violent offender with either nothing on your criminal record or nothing that would raise any red flags. Ultimately, whether you qualify for this program depends on the District Attorney overseeing your case. They may elect to try your case if they believe you’re a threat to society or would not otherwise benefit from ARD.
In this situation, you could benefit from retaining an ARD lawyer. They can assess your eligibility for ARD and manage that process. If ARD isn’t possible, they can advocate for you at trial and fight for your freedom.
What Is ARD? How Does It Benefit Criminal Defense Cases?
Before explaining your eligibility for ARD, we want to make sure you understand the program first.
ARD is an intervention program used by the state of Pennsylvania to reduce convictions and incarceration for first-time, non-violent offenders. Each county administers its own ARD program, consistent with Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, Ch. 3.
The program offers the arrested individual a chance to have their charges dismissed and their arrest expunged. During the program, you remain under court supervision for up to two years while meeting the court-ordered rehabilitation programs, which may include:
- Drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation
- A safe driving course
- Community service
During this process, your license may be suspended, and you may have to pay fines, court costs, and other restitution. If your arrest was drug or alcohol related, the judge may also order you to refrain from using non-prescription drugs or alcohol for the duration of the program.
If you complete all the requirements of the ARD program within the allotted time, the court will dismiss your case and expunge the arrest from your criminal record. This lets you move on from your arrest as though nothing happened.
Non-Violent Offenders With No Criminal Records Qualify for ARD
As noted, the ARD program is reserved for non-violent, first-time offenders. Every case is reviewed on an individual basis by the overseeing court. Factors that could affect your ARD eligibility include:
- Whether you have prior arrests or convictions on your record
- Whether anyone was injured or killed because of the actions that led to your arrest
- Whether you have a substance abuse problem
- Whether there were minors in the vehicle (if you were arrested for a DUI, for instance)
- Whether you had a valid license and insurance (if arrested while driving)
- Whether you were operating heavy equipment
- Whether you were driving under a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
Most ARD-eligible cases involve first-time charges for driving under the influence, drug possession, and minor theft charges. Aggravating factors, such as those listed above, can prevent first-time offenders from qualifying. A criminal defense attorney who handles ARD cases can help you navigate the process.
What Are the Potential Consequences of a Criminal Conviction?
The ARD program aims to limit the long-term consequences of an arrest for first-time, non-violent offenders. These consequences may include:
- License suspension or revocation
- Incarceration in jail or prison
- Drug and alcohol rehabilitation
- Driving safety school
- Ignition interlock device (IID) installation
- A permanent criminal record
- Higher insurance premiums
- Permanent notation on one’s driving record
A conviction for a seemingly minor charge can hurt your ability to secure the job or housing you want. You may also face challenges if you attend college or continuing education programs.
The ARD program provides relief from many of these consequences, including reducing or eliminating jail time, lowering fines, and reducing your license suspension period (if applicable).
Do I Need an Attorney to Apply for the ARD Program?
While Pennsylvania law allows defendants to represent themselves in criminal proceedings, most people do not know enough about laws and legal procedures to adequately do so. Incorrectly handling your case could result in an outcome you didn’t want or expect.
A criminal defense attorney can explain your legal rights as a first-time offender and help you gather the necessary information to request placement in the ARD program. Every county has different requirements for ARD admission, and failure to provide sufficient information could harm your case.
You Can Apply for the ARD Program on Your Own–But It’s Complicated
To apply for ARD, you must meet the specific requirements in the county where your case is being tried. You therefore benefit from working with a criminal defense attorney with experience handling ARD cases in your area.
Your attorney can obtain the necessary information to support your application and submit the appropriate forms to the District Attorney’s office prior to your preliminary hearing. This may include a detailed cover letter outlining the reasons you should be considered for ARD and a Court Reporting Network (CRN) evaluation to determine whether you have issues with drug or alcohol addiction.
During the hearing, your lawyer will try to convince the arresting officer and the District Attorney’s office that your case is appropriate for ARD. If they agree to enroll you in the program, your case will be essentially on hold for the duration of your ARD program.
What if I’m Not Eligible for ARD?
If you do not qualify for ARD, you may still have options. A criminal defense lawyer can investigate your case and advocate for your legal right to a fair trial. They can build a defense based on the facts of your case to try and reduce or eliminate your charges. Defenses they may use include:
- Incorrect arrest procedures, including failure to read Miranda Rights
- Incorrect administration of breath, urine, or blood tests
- A lack of probable cause for a traffic stop
- Falsified reports or witness statements
- Insufficient evidence to prove the prosecution’s argument
- Inadmissible evidence, such as hearsay and circumstantial evidence
- Illegal search and seizure
If they cannot get your charges dismissed, your defense attorney may work with the prosecutor to arrange a plea deal. With a plea deal, you may agree to plead guilty to lesser charges with a reduced sentence so both sides can avoid a trial.
This may mean reducing your charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, which can significantly reduce jail time and fines. A misdemeanor is also less likely than a felony to affect your ability to get jobs, apply to educational institutions, or obtain housing.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney for Assistance
When you face charges for DUI, drug crimes, or other non-violent activities, you could significantly reduce the long-term consequences through the ARD program. The criminal defense team at Mackenzie Law Firm, P.C. has the knowledge and experience necessary to guide you through the ARD process.
Call today to discuss your legal options and see how we can with your ARD application. Once you hire us, our legal team is at your disposal any time, day or night.