The ARD Program and Other Pre-Trial Diversionary Programs in Pennsylvania

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Is there a program that will let me keep criminal charges off of my record?

Our Philadelphia criminal lawyers often represent clients who are charged with less serious offenses who are extremely concerned about maintaining a clean criminal record. For example, we represent defendants who are facing charges for crimes like Driving Under the Influence ("DUI"), misdemeanors such as drug possession, and less serious felonies who may not necessarily be facing jail time but who would face serious collateral consequences from a criminal conviction. Because the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can be so far-reaching, it is extremely important that if you are facing criminal charges, you retain a lawyer who can help you keep a clean record for work, licensing, immigration, or educational purposes. In many cases, if you have never been arrested before or have not been arrested for any serious crimes recently, our criminal defense attorneys can help you in applying to pre-trial diversionary programs which will allow you to avoid a conviction and even have the record of the arrest expunged and destroyed. 

We are most successful in obtaining entry into a pre-trial diversionary program like ARD for clients who have never been arrested before. In some cases, we have even been able to obtain entry into a diversionary program for clients with prior arrests or who have gone through a program before. If you are facing misdemeanor or less serious felony charges, there are a number of programs to which we can help you apply. Two of the most common pre-trial diversionary programs which can be used to avoid a conviction are ARD and AMP, and we are frequently successful in obtaining entry into these important diversionary programs for our clients and in keeping convictions off of their records. 

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What is the ARD Program in Philadelphia, PA?

ARD (the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program) is probably the most common diversionary program in Pennsylvania state court because it exists in each county in Pennsylvania. ARD is a pre-trial diversionary program which allows a defendant with no prior criminal record (or an extremely old, minor arrest or juvenile matter) to pay a fine, complete community service, serve a relatively short period of unsupervised probation, and then have all of the charges from the case dismissed and expunged. In DUI cases, the diversionary program may include a short driver’s license suspension. Depending on the level of the DUI, the license suspension will be for a month or two instead of the one-year year license suspension which is commonly seen even for a first DUI conviction. 

Can I get ARD for a felony charge?

Traditionally, ARD was typically offered only in misdemeanor cases. In recent years, however, the entry requirements have been loosened both in Philadelphia and some of the surrounding counties. We have recently been able to obtain ARD for felony defendants with particularly strong mitigation in their background in Philadelphia and the suburbs. For example, we are often able to put together compelling mitigation packets in our applications to the District Attorney which may include proof of employment, character letters, and other evidence that the defendant is unlikely to have any future contacts with the criminal justice system. In one recent case, we were able to obtain entry into the program for a client who was charged with felony Aggravated Assault but who had not severely injured the alleged victim. On some occasions, our criminal lawyers have even obtained ARD for second DUI offenses even when the prior offense occurred within the last ten years.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has recently begun offering ARD for first-time offenders even in more serious cases. Charges that could potentially be resolved through the program in Philadelphia include:

  • Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”)

  • Theft by Unlawful Taking

  • Receiving Stolen Property

  • Access Device Fraud

  • Commercial Burglary

  • Criminal Trespass

  • Simple Assault

  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (“REAP”)

  • Terroristic Threats

  • Drug Possession

  • Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act Sections 6106 and 6108

In order to be eligible for the program, the case usually needs to represent an isolated incident that is unlikely to occur, and it generally cannot be too serious. Violent crimes in which the complainant suffers a real injury and sex crimes are unlikely to receive consideration. However, if you have no prior record, it may be worth putting together an application for the the program for many other types of offenses. Each case is different, and we are able to review your case for the possibility of a diversionary program and explain all of your options to you.

What does ARD cost?

ARD can be expensive, but when offered, it does provide a guarantee that if the defendant completes the conditions, then the case and criminal record will be dismissed and the charges will be expunged. The costs of the program can vary depending on the county in which you have been arrested, the charges, and whether you have the public defender or a private lawyer. In Philadelphia, the exact cost depends on the type of charge and if the case is a DUI, the level of drugs or alcohol in your blood. Generally, it costs between $400 and $700 in Philadelphia. In Delaware County, Bucks County, and Montgomery County, the fees can be substantially more. For example, Delaware County routinely charges around $1,500 for participation in the program, and fees in Montgomery and Bucks County can be as much as $2,000 for a DUI case. ARD is usually not offered for violent crimes other than misdemeanor Simple Assault, but it is commonly offered for low-level theft offenses and Driving Under the Influence. Because ARD results in dismissal of the charges and expungement, we typically recommend that clients who are eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition accept the program despite the cost. However, each case is different, and in some cases, we have advised clients to fight the charges instead. 

Do I have to do community service as part of ARD?

Community service is often a part of the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. The state law which created the program does not require the prosecution to make a defendant complete community service in order to complete the program, but many prosecutors feel that the fines and probation may not be sufficient punishment for the crime. Therefore, prosecutors will often attach other conditions to the program. It is very common for the Commonwealth to require a defendant to complete some amount of community service as part of the negotiations.

Is there any jail time with the ARD program?

No. One of the biggest benefits of the ARD program is that it guarantees that you will not go to jail so long as you successfully completely all of the requirements of the program. It always involves probation instead of jail time.

How long will I be on probation with ARD?

The period of probation can typically range from six months for a DUI case to two years for a more serious, felony case. The prosecution will tell you in advance how long you will have to be on probation in order to complete the program. In some counties, such as Montgomery County, the Commonwealth will actually reduce the length of the probation period for a defendant who can pay all of the fees and costs up front. Montgomery County, however, has some of the highest fees in the area for participation in diversion.

Will I have to go to drug and alcohol treatment if I do the ARD program?

Drug treatment, alcohol counseling, and anger management classes could all be part of the program depending on the charges and allegations against the defendant. It is fairly common for the Commonwealth to require some level of drug or alcohol treatment, or at least an evaluation, as a condition of the program for a DUI or drug possession charge. Likewise, a defendant who receives entry into the program for an assault charge may be required to attend anger management classes. The exact conditions of the program vary from case to case, and a defendant may not find out until the day of the hearing exactly what they will be. If the defendant does not want to complete the conditions, then the defendant may reject the program and have the case scheduled for trial.

What happens if I fail out of the ARD Program?

It is possible to fail out of the program either by failing to complete certain conditions, not paying the costs, or by getting arrested again for another charge. A failure to report to probation as required could also result in being terminated from the program, although the probation is often non-reporting or telephone-based. If there is a potential violation of the conditions of the program, then the probation officer could notify the prosecution, and the prosecution would then file a motion to terminate the defendant from the program. In that case, the court would schedule a hearing, and the defense would have the opportunity to challenge the violation or try to convince the prosecutor and/or judge to allow the defendant to have a second chance. If the motion to terminate is granted, then the defendant would then be scheduled for trial as if the entry into the program never happened. This is one of the biggest benefits of the program - if you fail out of it, you can still have your trial. Many treatment court programs require a conditional no contest or guilty plea which means that a defendant who fails the program will then be convicted and sentenced without a trial, but ARD is different. It is important to note that the prosecution cannot wait forever to file a motion to terminate a defendant from the program. If the prosecution waits too long or delays until the defendant has completed the probationary period, it may be possible to oppose the motion to terminate on legal grounds due to the unfair delay.

Can I get my record expunged if I complete the ARD program?

Yes, if you complete the program, your record will be eligible for expungement. In some counties, this expungement process happens automatically upon the completion of probation and the payment of fines and costs. In other counties, it requires obtaining proof of the successful completion of the program from the probation department and then filing a petition for an expungement. Either way, the successful completion of the program results in the dismissal of the charges and the potential for expungement. Our defense attorneys can help you make sure that the charges get removed from your record.

Will I get drug tested while I’m in the program?

Probably not. It is possible that drug treatment and testing could be ordered as a condition of the probation, but most of the time, the program involves non-reporting probation or telephone reporting. Therefore, most of the time, you will not be drug tested while in the program. However, drug testing remains a possibility, so it is best to avoid the use of any illegal substances until the charges have been dismissed.

How do I apply for the ARD program?

The application process varies depending on the county in which you are charged. In Philadelphia, the process is relatively informal and involves the defense attorney emailing an application to the District Attorney’s Office asking them to consider the case for the program. It is often helpful to include character letters, proof of employment and/or education, and other helpful information. The DA’s Office will then usually respond within a few weeks, and sometimes, it may be necessary to request a continuance of court hearings until a decision has been made. In Montgomery County and Delaware County, there are formal applications which must be filled out by the attorney and defendant and submitted by certain deadlines in order to receive consideration. In these counties, it may become more difficult to obtain entry into the program if you wait too long after the preliminary hearing. Additionally, Philadelphia currently does not require a waiver of the preliminary hearing in order to apply, but some suburban counties do.

Does ARD count as a conviction?

No, participation in the ARD program does not count as a conviction. It also does not require any admission of guilt. In some cases, a prior Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition could be used against you in a future case. For example, if you receive the program for a DUI case and get another DUI within ten years, the prosecution will usually argue that the subsequent DUI should be punished as a second offense due to the prior ARD. There is currently ongoing litigation as to whether this practice is constitutional, but it is possible that you could have a prior diversionary disposition used against you in a future DUI. You do not, however, have to tell an employer or educational institution that you have been convicted or been found guilty of a crime because the program does not result in a conviction or guilty plea.

Are the other diversionary programs that could help me in Philadelphia?

Yes, there are other diversionary programs which may be able to help you keep a clean record even if you are not eligible for the ARD program. Those programs include treatment court for felony drug cases, the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program for low level misdemeanors, and The Choice is Yours.

What is the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program ("AMP")?

A second common pre-trial diversionary program which exists only in Philadelphia is the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program ("AMP"). Like ARD, the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program also typically allows the defendant to avoid any period of probation or jail time, and in many cases, it allows for the dismissal and expungement of charges without a conviction. Depending on the defendant's criminal record, there are two levels of AMP to which the defendant may be admitted - AMP I and AMP II.

Demetra Mehta, Esq. - Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer

Demetra Mehta, Esq. - Philadelphia Criminal Lawyer

AMP I requires the defendant to pay a fine, complete community service, and remain arrest-free for approximately two months. If the defendant is able to complete those conditions, then the charges will be dismissed and the defendant may file for an expungement. The expungement is not automatic and requires an additional filing fee and hearing, but once the expungement is granted, the records will be destroyed and the case will be removed from the defendant's record. The court costs and period to complete the program for AMP I are typically lower than the court costs for other programs. 

AMP II, which may be offered to defendants with lengthier criminal records, may result in a conviction or participation in a program called Section 17. In many cases, we are able to obtain Section 17 or Section 18 dispositions for defendants who have prior arrests or convictions but are admitted into AMP II. The conditions of Section 17 and Section 18 vary depending on the case, but in general, both require the defendant to plead no contest, complete a period of probation, pay a fine, and possibly complete various other conditions such as job training or drug treatment. If the defendant is successful, then the charges can be dismissed and expunged. If the defendant is not successful, then the judge may find the defendant guilty of the charges and sentence the defendant to either probation or jail time. In cases where the defendant already has a lengthy criminal record, we may be able to obtain an AMP II offer which requires a guilty plea and conviction but will not result in an actual probationary or jail sentence if the defendant is able to complete the conditions. We have also obtained Section 17 and Section 18 for clients outside of the AMP program and in counties other than Philadelphia. 

Other Diversionary Programs

In addition to ARD and AMP, there are other diversionary programs both in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. Many of the counties have specialized DUI treatment courts, drug treatment courts, Domestic Violence Court, Intermediate Punishment, Veteran's Courts, and Mental Health courts. The programs vary from county to county and depending on the case. 

Fighting The Case

Finally, when the client is not eligible for a pre-trial diversionary programs, we have been extremely successful in defending misdemeanor charges both at trial in the Philadelphia Municipal Court or through pre-trial motions such as Motions to Suppress or Speedy Trial motions. If we are able to beat the case at trial or through the use of a pre-trial motion, we are typically able to move for an expungement once the case has been dismissed or we have obtained an acquittal. Additionally, summary convictions can often be expunged after five years, and some misdemeanor convictions can be partially expunged pursuant to a new limited access order law after ten years.

Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein can help you find out if any diversionary programs may be available for your case.

Criminal Defense Attorney Zak Goldstein can help you find out if any diversionary programs may be available for your case.

If you are facing charges for the first time or have been arrested before, you need the advice and representation of one of our skilled criminal defense attorneys immediately. We have helped countless clients avoid conviction and permanent records both at trial, through the use of pre-trial motions, and through applications to pre-trial diversionary programs. Call 267-225-2545 for a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session with one of our Philadelphia criminal lawyers.  

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