I have never been arrested before. Can I keep this case off my record?
We often represent clients who are charged with Driving Under the Influence ("DUI"), misdemeanors, or other less serious felonies who may not necessarily be facing jail time but are extremely concerned about keeping their record clean for work, licensing, immigration, or educational purposes. In many cases, if you have never been arrested before or have not been arrested for a long time, 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 keeping obtaining entry into a pre-trial diversionary program for clients who have never been arrested before. In some cases, we are even able to obtain entry into a diversionary program even when the client has been arrested before if the arrests are relatively old. 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 ARD or AMP for our clients.
What is ARD? (The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program)
ARD 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 ARD 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.
ARD is typically offered only in misdemeanor cases. However, we have been able to obtain ARD for felony defendants with particularly deserving circumstances. 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 go away and the charges will be expunged. ARD is almost never offered for violent crimes, 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 ARD accept the program. However, each case is different, and in rare cases, it may be advisable to fight the charges.
The Accelerated Misdemeanor Program ("AMP")
A second common pre-trial diversionary program which exists only in Philadelphia is the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program ("AMP"). The Accelerated Misdemeanor Program also typically allows the defedant 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.
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.
AMP II, which may be offered to defendant's 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.
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, 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 ARD or other 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.
Whether you are a first-time offender or have been arrested before, if you are facing criminal charges, 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.