The Lancaster Sunday News has recently been publishing a series of articles about the debate surrounding the efficiency of the Lancaster County criminal court system. On March 18, one article addressed the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program ("ARD") and how it helps to lighten the court’s caseload by keeping many cases off of the court calendar.
The ARD program is generally available for first time DUI offenders although, as the Sunday News article points out, over the past few years, it has become available for some defendants charged with low-level and primarily nonviolent offenses. The program tends to lighten the court calendar because it offers several advantages to people charged with a crime.
First, ARD allows a defendant to keep a clean criminal record. The successful completion of the program is not considered a criminal conviction, and the charges can be removed from a defendant’s criminal record through a process call expungement. This is one of the most attractive advantages to first-time offenders because they will not have to check the "yes" box on job applications and other documents asking if they have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.
Second, there is generally no jail time involved with the ARD program. As a result, if a defendant is charged with a crime that calls for mandatory jail time, such as driving under the influence of alcohol ("DUI"), the ARD program allows that defendant to avoid jail despite the charges.
Third, if you are charged with DUI, the ARD program will result in a much shorter license suspension. DUI charges normally call for a twelve to eighteen month suspension depending on the defendant’s blood alcohol content ("BAC") and whether the defendant has had any prior DUI convictions. On the other hand, and as the Sunday News article points out, ARD will result in a license suspension of zero to ninety days depending on the offender’s BAC. In a previous post, I described the stiff penalties, including jail time and significant fines, drivers can face if they are caught driving with a license suspended for DUI or ARD purposes.
The Sunday News article concludes with a good description of an ARD court hearing. However, while the article states that nearly a third of the defendants represented themselves, those defendants did so at their own peril. The ARD application process involves many filings and deadlines. During my time as a prosecutor, I saw numerous ARD applicants summarily rejected from the ARD program because they did not make the appropriate filings or meet the required deadlines.
As a result, if you are facing criminal charges for the first time and are considering ARD, I would consult with a DUI attorney as soon as possible. I prefer to meet with clients within the first few days after charges have been filed, as there is a 30-day deadline to file for ARD. For more information, please see Why You Need an Attorney When Charged With DUI.