ARD Program in PA for First Time Offenses

The first time any one is arrested can be a shock to that person and his/her family. Your mind begins to think of a million things at once:  how do I get a lawyer, how much money is it going to cost, will I get a record, lose my job, lose my license,  etc.  Fortunately, for many first time offenders there is a program in Pennsylvania that allows someone to avoid a criminal record, jail, or a big fine.  That program is called the Accelerated Rehabilitation Diversion program, or ARD.


ARD is a program run by the district attorney’s office of the county where the offense was committed.  The DA’s office has to approve the person’s entry into the program after reviewing the offense and confirming that the defendant has never been convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania or the rest of the country.  If the DA rejects a person for the program there is no appeal to a judge.  If approved you will be put on probation for a period of time (usually one year), pay court costs, and may have to do community service.  If the defendant successfully completes the probation (gets in no further trouble) the charge will be dismissed and there will be no criminal record.  One may even get the arrest expunged.


If you are arrested it is important that you contact a criminal attorney immediately.  At your first meeting tell your lawyer that you have no criminal record and that this is your first arrest.  (DON’T’ LIE).  Next comes the preliminary hearing at the District Justice court in the area where the offense was committed.  Your lawyer will first speak to the arresting officer to make sure he/she will have no objections to the ARD program.  The officer’s opinion will be taken into account by the DA’s office.  If there is no objection your lawyer will probably waive your hearing (no testimony) and have the case forwarded to the county court.  At or before the arraignment your lawyer will make application to the DA for entry into the ARD program.  Part of the application is waiving your rights to a speedy trial since it may take time for the DA to confirm that you have no record.  Of course, some crimes will not be approved for ARD such as homicide, aggravated assault with injury, drug dealing, etc.  If you are approved you will be given a hearing date.


Your hearing will be before a judge either in a large group of first time offenders or by yourself.  You will fill out a form indicating that you want to be admitted to the program and that you understand all your rights and responsibilities.  YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PLEAD GUILTY.  The judge will ask you personally if you understand your rights and he will sign an order admitted you into the program.  You will then be taken to the probation office where you will have to pay the costs of the program (a short term payment plan may be allowed at the discretion of the DA) and given the rules and regulations.  If community service is ordered it will be set up for you.


Once in the program you will have to abide by any rules set down for you.  This may include a drug evaluation (if for a drug offense) or anger management.  THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE IS: DON’T GET ARRESTED AGAIN.  If you get arrested it will be most likely be considered a violation and you will be removed from the program.  Any time spent on probation or costs paid will be lost to you.    


If you violate the terms of the program you will be removed from ARD after a hearing.  The violation may be an arrest, failure to pay all court costs, failed drug test, etc.  If you are found to have violated the ARD program you will be put onto the trial list for the crime as if you were never on the program in the first place.  Your court costs will not be refunded.  If you then found or plead guilty you will have a criminal record.


Once you successfully complete the ARD program your probation will be over.  The charges will then be dismissed.  If asked afterwards by anyone, such as an employer, if you have ever been convicted of a crime you can say no.  Your record will show the arrest with a note that the charges were dismissed. 


Once you have successfully completed the program you may file a petition with the Court to have your record expunged.  This will erase even the record of the arrest off your record.  (The only one who will have that information will be the DA since, if you are arrested again, you will not be eligible for the program.)  The expungement does not automatically happen.  You must file a petition requesting that it occur. 


If your first arrest is for Driving Under the Influence the above is the same.  However, you will lost your license for anywhere from 30 – 60 days (unlike a conviction which causes a loss of license for a year.).  Also, if there was a minor under the age of 14 in the car at the time you will not be admitted to ARD even if it is your first arrest.  Further, if you are found driving while your license is suspended you will go to jail for 60-90 days and a year will be added to the suspension.  And, if arrested again for DUI you will be treated as a second time offender (even though the first DUI was technically “dismissed”). 

If you are arrested for a a crime it is imperative that you contact a lawyer immediately so he/she can better prepare your defense and determine if you are eligible for ARD.

The information presented is not legal advice, and your use of it does not create an attorney-client relationship. No recipient should act on the basis of any content included in the site without seeking the appropriate legal advice from counsel. Lawrence R. Dworkin, Esq. expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken based on any content of this site. Because every case is different, any prior results described on this web site do not guarantee or suggest a similar outcome.


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