If you’ve been charged with a crime as an adult in Pennsylvania and you have little or no prior criminal record, you may be eligible for the ARD program. ARD stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition—fancy words for special probation. This program is offered at the discretion of the District Attorney’s office. Judges can not dictate to prosecutors that they must offer ARD to a particular individual. However, if a prosecutor and the defense agree to resolve a case by having a defendant placed on the ARD program, the judge has the final approval, and can reject the defendant for ARD after hearing everything about the defendant and about the facts of the case. The judge also decides the length of the ARD. The most time a person on probation within the ARD program is two years (or less).
The biggest benefit of ARD is that the charges are held open while you are on the program and once you complete it, the charges are then dismissed. Following successful completion of ARD, you are eligible to have your record of the case expunged. For information on how to seek an expungment, click on my expungement page (here). An expungment means literally wiping your record clean as if the incident never happened.
There are several limitations on getting into the program that are dictated by law, as well as the jurisdiction/county you are in. First, the program is intended as a first offenders program. However, it’s not meant for higher-level felonies and crimes of violence. As lawyers like to say, it isn’t offered for your first murder case. Generally only low-level, non-violent offenses are considered for the ARD program (such as DUI, theft offenses, retail thefts, etc. If you have been convicted in the past of a DUI, but are now charged with something else, some prosecutors will offer you ARD for the new charge. Other prosecutors view ARD as strictly a one-time opportunity, if at all. I tell my clients that the question of your prior record means determining whether you have any prior record, as a juvenile or adult, in any jurisdiction from Pennsylvania to Hawaii, and all points in between, including Puerto Rico. If you had something relatively minor as a juvenile, but nothing on your adult record, you may still be able to get into the ARD program for a new pending charge. The prosecutor will pull your “rap sheet” (i.e. your criminal record) from an FBI database, to which all jurisdictions report in. You may have seen or paid for your rap sheet from the Pennsylvania State Police. This rap sheet generally just reflects what you had in Pennsylvania and is more limited. Your FBI rap is sheet is broader and is based upon your name, date of birth, social security number, and fingerprints. If you’ve used an alias in the past, or had another name, it is likely that your record will still be found because of the fingerprint analysis. Therefore, when considering whether to disclose a prior record, it is always better to be honest about what you think may appear on your record. If you aren’t sure or don’t remember what happened with your past case, you can state that and let the prosecutor decide how to handle it.
ARD can be a big benefit to most people (especially young people applying for admission to college or graduate school, applying to the military, applying for financial aid, or simply trying to get a job where employers examine criminal records). However, in my opinion, it is also extremely expensive. Aside from paying your lawyer, you will owe court costs for the ARD program, and they can be rather expensive. In most counties, the costs of ARD is somewhere between $750-$1,500. This doesn’t include restitution (money you pay back to the court that is paid to the victim of your crime). It also doesn’t include a fine because a fine is a criminal punishment and the costs of ARD are simply court costs and costs of probation to supervise you. You will find that if you get approved for ARD, there will be very little actual supervision. It’s very rare for most people to have to report to the probation office regularly while on ARD or to have to do urinalysis. So, it’s even more difficult to swallow the court costs you have to pay. Moreover, for DUI cases, the costs go even higher, due to the evaluations, classes and treatment involved with DUI cases. (I still feel that ARD for DUI cases is a big benefit because you end up with a much shorter license suspension (of 30 days, 60 days, or none at all, depending on several variables), rather than a minimum of one year suspension (or more) if you simply plead guilty to a DUI offense.
If you are charged with a criminal offense in Pennsylvania and you think you may be eligible to be treated as a first offender, have an attorney work out the details for you. There are several variables within ARD that can be negotiated, depending on the county you are in. In Lehigh County, the decision by prosecutors to offer ARD may be made easily, whereas in several other counties—including Northampton County—a formal application process is required. If you need help navigating through such a case, call me as soon as you can after being charged, in order to discuss all available options and debate what best serves your needs.