Instead of a dry, boring article, the following is an excerpt from a recent interview with Attorney Leckerman on the subject.
Interviewer: Can you explain what an ARD program entails?
Leckerman: The ARD program in Pennsylvania is fairly standardized. Each county, however, has its own procedures for an ARD applicant and participant. When I say ‘standardized,’ what I mean by that is the law sets up what are the guidelines that a prosecutor’s office can use to allow somebody into or reject somebody from the ARD program.
A Rehabilitative Program
ARD stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. The program is run exclusively by the District Attorney’s Office for each county. They set up their standards for denying or approving an ARD application.
There Are Stringent Rules for Admission into the ARD Program
People can be denied based on a number of factors. The first factor is a prior conviction for a criminal offense. That alone is going to be justification to deny access into the program. Having a minor under the age of 14 in the car could be a reason for denying somebody admission to the program.
An accident with injury to somebody other than the driver is also a reason for denial into the program. If the person’s license is suspended or the person doesn’t have insurance, those are reasons as well.
If the person is approved for the program, then there are a number of rules an applicant has to follow. For instance, the community service may have to be completed. The person has to do a CRN evaluation, which is a drug and alcohol evaluation. If the CRN evaluation reveals that the person has a potential drug or alcohol problem, then the person has to get a more comprehensive evaluation done. Then if that evaluation determines that the person has an alcohol or drug problem[,] counseling has to be completed.
The person has to take Highway safety courses, which would be two days worth of those courses. All this is at the person’s own expense and, depending on the county, evaluations can be as little as $60.00 or as great as $275.00.
The ARD Process
Once the person has completed all of these preliminary requirements, then that person will only be considered for final approval for ARD. The process goes like this: You go to your preliminary hearing, which is the first stage in the criminal justice process. Most counties will require that you waive or give up your right to a preliminary hearing in order to be considered for the ARD program.
In previous years, drivers could still have a preliminary hearing and then get into the ARD program, but counties, such as Chester, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery, all now require that the person waive a preliminary hearing in order to be considered for the ARD program. Then once the person waives the preliminary hearing, an application has to be filled out.
These applications can be fairly lengthy. Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County and Bucks County all require ARD applications. Philadelphia County does not require an application be signed and does not have a preliminary hearing waiver process because there are no preliminary hearings in Philadelphia County.
Acceptance into the ARD Program Is Not an Admission of Guilt
When accepted to the program, the applicant will have to generally go through a 6 to 12-months period of probation. At the final ARD hearing date the person will not be admitting guilt to the DUI but will simply be placed into the program.
Then, the person will get a license suspension, depending on the blood-alcohol concentration. It’s a 30-days license suspension if they have blood-alcohol concentration between a 0.10 BAC and 0.16 BAC. If it’s a BAC of 0.16 or greater, then it’s a 60-days license suspension. If the BAC is less than 0.10, then there’s no license suspension.
The costs for these programs vary greatly. Montgomery County charges in excess of $2000 to get into the program. Bucks County, Chester County and Delaware County average around $1100-$1400 for their ARD programs but Philadelphia County is only $432.00 for their ARD program. The primary importance of this ARD program is that you are not admitting guilt to the charge.
After Successful Completion of the ARD Program, Your Arrest Record May Be Expunged
At the end of the probationary process, provided that you’ve completed all of the requirements set out by the District Attorney’s Office and you are not arrested for another offense, then the driver can petition the court to dismiss and expunge the charges.
If that petition is granted, then all of the arrest information should be destroyed. The charges will be dismissed. There really is no way to find out that this person has ever been arrested or charged with a DUI.
The one exception is that the District Attorney’s Office will generally have access to information about whether a person has gone through the ARD program. The reason for that is two-fold.
If You Incur Subsequent DUI Convictions You Will Be Treated As A Repeat Offender
First, the District Attorney’s Office has to know if the person has already had this pretrial diversionary option because it’s a one-time offer. You can’t get ARD more than once.
The other important factor is, even though you’re not convicted for a DUI and the charges are dismissed and expunged, if you are found guilty of a second DUI, then you are treated as a second offender.
An Attorney Is Not Required to Apply for the ARD Program, But An Attorney Can Assist in Successful Enrollment
Interviewer: Is it possible to get into the ARD yourself, with out hiring an attorney? Or is it really something you have to have a lawyer help you do?
Leckerman: A defendant certainly can get into the program him or herself. It becomes tricky in certain circumstances where there was an accident or some issue regarding a person’s prior criminal history. At times, I’ve had cases where a passenger was injured in a motor vehicle accident and it was the driver’s friend.
The district attorney wanted to deny ARD but I was able to convince the district attorney that this was a good candidate because the friend wasn’t seriously injured and that the friend didn’t oppose ARD.
At other times, I want to paint a very positive picture of my client and show that this is a really good law-abiding citizen who may have made a bad mistake but should be given the opportunity to have this mistake erased.
There are other instances where the driver may be concerned that there’s a prior conviction in his or her past and doesn’t know how to reveal it in the ARD application process.
This can be very tricky because, if you fail to give a truthful answer in the application, the prosecutor’s office can, not only deny your ARD entry, but also charge you with another crime for making a false statement.
Each County Has Different Requirements for Enrolling in the ARD Program
Obviously, you have to know how to sidestep procedural landmines. Generally, those things don’t come up for ARD applicant, but you just never know what to expect during this process and once you fail to follow all of the District Attorney’s rules, they’re just going to deny you. That’s another reason why you may want to have an attorney, because an attorney should be aware of each county’s requirements for getting into the program.
It has become much more difficult to get in these programs over the years. You just have to really know each and every requirement in order to be fully considered, because if you fail to follow all of these requirements to the letter, they’re going to deny your admission.
Is the ARD Program the Right Choice for You? Ask Your Attorney
The other positive issue about having an attorney is that you would have someone to advise you if ARD is not the right program for you. For instance, a commercial driver may not want to get into ARD because, even if you go through the program and successfully have your charge dismissed and expunged, you’re going to end up with a twelve-months loss of commercial driving privileges, which to many people is just as bad as getting the conviction itself.
In fact, it’s the same penalty as if you’re convicted, meaning you’re going to lose your commercial driver’s license for 12 months either way, with ARD or with going to trial. People don’t even know about that.
The ARD Program, Dismissing the Charges and the Expungement Process: Another Avenue of Assistance Your Attorney Can Provide
Then, finally, the motion to dismiss and the expungement petition can be a little bit tricky in counties like Delaware County or Montgomery County or even Philadelphia County. An attorney would be beneficial