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.