In Bucks County, the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program offers first-time offenders who've been charged with non-violent crimes a second chance. It's one of the very few methods of avoiding the creation of a criminal record and the imposition of legal penalties in the county. And with the help of an attorney, defendants who qualify can enter a program that will keep them accountable, while helping them maintain a squeaky clean record in the process.
For the purposes of this article, we will address (1) what the ARD program embodies, (2) the qualifications required for gaining entry into this program, and (3) the crucial role an attorney plays in getting you approved.
What is the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program?
ARD is a diversionary pre-trial intervention program that is exclusively extended to first-time, non-violent defendants. It may be also accessible to criminal offenders with little interactions with law enforcement in unique circumstances. By removing defendants from a system that's intended to punish, ARD's goals are to remedy the core of the issue by successfully rehabilitating and diverting its members. If these goals are individually met, partakers will have avoided a conviction, the creation of a criminal record, and legal penalties. Ultimately, success in this program is defined by if a member can fully complete the terms assigned to him or her in the given time period, and if the trend of recidivism is curbed.
While this program is best suited for people who've acquired DUI charges, program coordinators have also seen significant progress in defendants who've been charged with drug possession, defendants who traffic and sell drugs to fuel their addiction, and other crimes like theft, that don't involve violence.
How Does The ARD Program Work in Bucks County?
A defendant will be scheduled to attend a hearing where it will be determined if he or she has been granted into the program. If accepted, the defendant will be immediately placed on supervision or an informal probation. Although it cannot officially be called a probation period, it's an identical concept. A supervisor will be assigned to a defendant - much like a probation officer - at a nearby office. They will be responsible for ensuring that program guidelines are followed.
Being approved means that all charges will be put on hold for a year. This duration is intended to give members enough time to fulfill all the conditions and requirements that are necessary for completion. The terms assigned to each member will vary depending on the unique circumstances of their case. Here are some common requirements imposed upon an average member in the Bucks County ARD program:
- The completion of driver's safety courses
- Random drug tests
- The avoidance of new charges while on supervision
- The completion of community service
- A driver's license suspension
- The completion of drug and/or alcohol counseling
- Paid restitution
Entry Into the ARD Program
Every county within the Commonwealth has its own respective version of the ARD program that administers unique requirements for entry. The Bucks County ARD program requires that each interested applicant submit a completed application form, a participant information form, and a form to waive your preliminary hearing. After these forms are completed, your application will be submitted to the Magisterial District Court that has jurisdiction over your case. This application will be under review to determine whether or not you meet the program's acceptance criteria.
Not every applicant is approved to participate in the Bucks County ARD program. There are some circumstances that make a defendant ineligible right off the bat. These conditions include:
- The presence of a minor child (under the age of 14 years old in this case) as a passenger during a DUI arrest
- Prior accusations of domestic violence, stalking, witness intimidation, or any sex crime
- Pending charges for assault, harassment, or the involvement of a deadly weapon
- A case involving injuries
- Prior participation in the program
- Prior criminal or DUI convictions
Not having a current driver's license, valid auto insurance, and fleeing the scene of an accident may also diminish your chances of being accepted.
It's important to note that program coordinators will also factor in feedback from your peers, family, and the potential victims of your original crime when considering your entry. An attorney can help you identify potential challenges that could adversely affect your chances of being approved. In fact, throughout the process, the assistance of an attorney becomes necessary to maximize your chances of successful entry. A lawyer does a lot of the legwork by attempting to convince an arresting officer, the prosecutor, and the judge that the ARD program is the best resolution to your charges.
The costs of becoming a member of this program vary based on your situation. A defendant may be required to pay restitution, court costs, supervision fees, and additional charges recommended by the District Attorney. Acceptance in the Bucks County ARD program requires incoming defendants to submit a portion of the costs to the Clerk of Court for collateral. The program will then be responsible for putting defendants on a payment plan.
Failing to make payments on time, or at all can get a person removed from the ARD program. If this occurs, they will be put back on trial for their original charges.
In comparison to a standard Bucks County conviction, the ARD program offers multiple amazing benefits. If successfully completed, a defendant avoids conviction, they will get the duration of their license suspension (if applicable) significantly reduced, the jail sentence will be void, and an expungement will be immediately ordered. From this point, a person will not be required to disclose the incident, arrest, or charge to any company, licensure, school, residency, etc., that asks about criminal history.
Bucks County ARD Attorney
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Bucks County, you may be eligible for entry into the county's ARD program. Consult with experienced criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento for more information about how you can get approved. Contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5355.