Frequently Asked Question

No, you are not required to get a lawyer. You can always represent yourself. Whether you are granted ARD depends on what county you are charged in. ARD is offered at the discretion of the District Attorney. No judge can tell the District Attorney to offer it, and the police can not control who gets ARD. However, the District Attorney relies heavily sometimes on the opinion of the police. ARD is usually a huge benefit for most people because it guarantees that the person remains out of prison, is placed on light probation supervision, gets the case ultimately dismissed once ARD is completed, and then the whole matter can be expunged (wiped clean).

The district attorneys in different counties treat ARD differently. For example, in some counties, ARD is strictly one-time only. This means that if you got ARD for a DUI, you can’t get it separately for a drug possession charge in a new case. In other counties, you can get ARD for one minor criminal offense, and still get ARD again if you get a DUI case. And in other counties, you can get ARD for a DUI, and get ARD for another DUI if it happens more than 10 years later.

There are so many variables that the District Attorney considers when someone is applying for ARD, but they include things like the person’s overall criminal record—as a juvenile and as a adult in every jurisdiction, the nature of the current offense in terms of whether it was violent in nature and felony versus misdemeanor, whether weapons or threats were involved, whether people were actually hurt—physically, emotionally, or financially, whether restitution is owed and can repair the damage to the victim, the personal background of the person (i.e. education level, military service), whether the victim is a family member and the attitude of the victim, as well as many other factors.

I have had many cases in the past in which the District Attorney was originally not going to give ARD, but after I became involved, the District Attorney changed his or her mind. Sometimes that is simply a matter of bringing more things to light that were not known to the District Attorney or police in considering ARD. On other occasions, I have had District Attorneys offer ARD to my client as a compromise, because the client had no prior criminal record and really felt that he or she was not responsible for the current charge, but wanted to avoid the cost and risk of a trial.

So the answer is–no, you are never required to get a lawyer for any case. You have a constitutional right to represent yourself in any criminal case. Of course, that’s not a good idea, but people do try to do it. My basic advice on that is I ALWAYS recommend to anyone that has a criminal case—including traffic charges and citations for minor offenses—to get a lawyer who specializes in criminal defense. The family attorney who handled your will and a relative’s divorce is not the lawyer that would be handling criminal matters. Conversely, if someone contacts me because they have a complicated business contract, or a dispute with an insurance company, or a tax problem, I send them to colleagues who handle those matters because I wouldn’t be able to advise them properly.

If you are charged with an offense and you’d like to explore the possibility of ARD, get a lawyer right away because there are certain things you should be doing at the beginning of the case to put yourself in the best position for achieving ARD later in the case.

To discuss the possibility of ARD and other options in your case, call me to consult at 484-695-7023.

Criminal court involving juveniles has become increasingly complex in the past 15 years. In the past, juvenile court was for relatively minor crimes because juveniles were rarely involved in more serious criminal offenses. But in Pennsylvania currently (and in all states), judges and court systems now take juvenile crimes much more seriously. This is both a good and a bad thing. Responsible parents will be happy to know that if your child is skipping school, smoking pot, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and getting in minor trouble with the law, the juvenile court will be working closely with the juvenile probation department (who in turn works with parents), to rehabilitate the juvenile. If your child is charged with a serious offense (particularly a violent offense), the consequences can go up dramatically.

Since the District Attorney and police have the same burden of proving guilt in juvenile court against accused, all the rules of evidence apply, just as they would in adult. In addition, there are numerous rules of criminal procedure for juvenile court, and some of those rules are even more complicated than in adult court due to a juvenile’s age, maturity and status, which sometimes dictates parental involvement in decision-making. This means that it’s very important to get a lawyer for your child.

Many parents ask me whether they can protect their child’s privacy, but also whether the child will forever have a “criminal record.” This question requires a rather lengthy discussion about what exactly a “criminal record” is for juveniles, who can access it (the media, the public, colleges, employers, law enforcement), and many other issues. It is important to understand that some of the most serious offenses can be directly filed in the adult court system. Juveniles charged with offenses in the adult court system can be held in an adult prison while the case is going on. In those most serious cases, it is often hard to get a court to set a reasonable bail, and consequently the juvenile remains in the adult jail. However, juvenile offenders are supposed to be segregated away from the adults inside of adult jails. If your child is facing charges for a relatively minor offense, or very serious charges, you should consult and hire an attorney immediately. Juveniles are particularly vulnerable to being manipulated by law enforcement to speak and sometimes incriminate themselves—either because the juvenile doesn’t understand that he or she may remain totally silent, or because skilled police officers can persuade an immature juvenile to “clear the air,” by speaking to them. “Clearing the air” is nothing more than police attempting to get incriminating statements from a person and leading the person to believe that he or she will face lesser charges (usually not true) or won’t be charged at all (almost never happens).

If your son or daughter is charged with a crime, or is about to be charged, call me right away. Many times police are looking for cooperation with a juvenile and his or her parents, and in exchange, I can occasionally arrange that the juvenile is never charged. This requires a lot of conversation and careful assessment. If you call me, I will need to know all the good and all the bad about your child, in order to give you my honest opinion on how best to proceed.

Well, first you need to get approved for ARD. You’ll have a preliminary hearing (which I call “Round 1”) and then your case must go to the trial court level (“Round 2”) in order to go onto the ARD program. In some counties, you’ll have no idea until you get to Round 2 with the District Attorney and higher judge whether you’ll get approved for ARD, which means you’re making decisions “blind” in Round 1. Consequently, it’s very important to have a local criminal defense attorney who knows how the particular police, judges and district attorney will view the case at issue. The local defense attorney you hire would know these things based on lots of past experience in other cases with those persons.

Since the District Attorney has the sole decision about whether you’ll get ARD, you’ll want to have a long conversation with your attorney very early in your case to know if ARD is likely, so you can decide what to do. This is because in some counties—Northampton County for example—you are required to “waive” your preliminary hearing (the first hearing in the case) in order to even seek ARD at the higher court. If you choose at the first hearing to actually listen to the evidence and have the police or witnesses testify, you can’t then later seek ARD in Northampton County. This is special mostly to Northampton County because in other counties, the District Attorneys don’t operate that way.

So going to the question of expungement, the time for getting something expunged varies by county. There are a lot of variables but it mostly comes down to how fast the court system—the Clerk of Courts, the district attorney, the judge–get around to processing the paperwork and making a decision. If you manage to get ARD and then manage to complete it successfully, you should receive a letter from Probation saying that you completed it successfully and the charges are now dismissed. This triggers your right to now seek an expungement. In some counties, the probation departments are actually taking the initiative to start the expungement process for the person, but in other counties, you have to file a formal petition. When a petition has to be filed and served on all the court offices, you are then waiting for a hearing date, or alternatively for the judge to sign the order granting it. Sometimes district attorneys will fight an expungement, even if someone has completed ARD. The norm, however, is that you’ll be entitled to expungement, absent any objection from the district attorney. In Lehigh County, as of the end of 2016, expungements were taking about 6 months from the time that the person completed probation. Keep in mind that once an expungement order is signed by a judge, the order is sent to all the court offices, police department, state police, etc. It is then up to each of those entities to do the expungement. That can sometimes take many additional months.

I would also note that when you seek to expunge your criminal record—whether it is from ARD or some other result—you can only ask a Pennsylvania court to expunge your criminal records in Pa. The federal government—including the FBI—is not under the jurisdiction of a Pennsylvania court and will not follow an expungement order coming from Pa. This means that if you are applying to the military, attempting to get federal clearances, or work in certain professions like nursing and teaching, the federal rap sheet will still show your case from Pa. This is another lengthy topic that you need to cover with your attorney while seeking an expungement.

One final note is that Pennsylvania law was amended in 2016 to provide for expanded expungement under certain conditions. If you want to discuss any aspect of expungement and possibly seek one, call me to consult.

Contact Info

Attorney Kathryn Roberts (Kate Roberts)
527 Hamilton Street Allentown, PA 18101
Phone: 484-695-7023 Fax: 484-551-5988