In Chester 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, you can join this program and maintain a squeaky clean record.
For the purposes of this article, we will address (1) what the ARD program entails, (2) the qualifications required for gaining entry into this program, and (3) the crucial role an attorney plays in getting 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 offenders. In very rare circumstances, it may be available to defendants with limited criminal histories. This program places an emphasis on rehabilitation and diversion from crime, rather than punishment. It gives qualified applicants the option of avoiding the creation of a criminal record and legal penalties.
How Does the Ard Program Work in Chester County?
Firstly, a defendant who has been approved by the program's coordinators will be required to attend a hearing. This hearing will include details about assigned conditions, stipulations, program guidelines and deadlines. Following this hearing, a defendant - who will now officially be known as a member of the Chester County ARD program - will be put on “supervision.” Supervision and probation are very similar concepts in this context. Members will be assigned a supervisor - much like a probation officer - who is tasked with ensuring that program guidelines are thoroughly followed. They will also make sure members are on track with completing their conditions in a timely manner.
The original charges will be put on hold for an entire year. The court has decided that this year-long period is sufficient time for members to fulfill all of their requirements. The terms assigned to each member may vary based on the circumstances of their individual cases. One member may be ordered to complete a drug program, while another may have to attend several driver's courses instead. For further clarification, here are some of the general requirements that may be imposed upon an average member in the Chester County ARD program:
- Paid restitution
- A driver's license suspension
- The avoidance of new charges while on supervision
- The completion of driver's safety courses
- Random drug tests
- The completion of community service
- The completion of drug and/or alcohol counseling
Entry Into the ARD Program
Each county in the Commonwealth has its own version of the ARD program. Chester County interested defendants to fill out an ARD application, waive their preliminary hearing, and waive a formal arraignment. This application must be submitting within 30 days of the scheduled preliminary hearing date.
- Prior criminal or DUI convictions
- Prior participation in the Chester County ARD program
- A case involving injuries
- Pending charges for assault, harassment, or the involvement of a deadly weapon
- Prior accusations of domestic violence, stalking, witness intimidation, or any sex crime
- The presence of a minor child (under the age of 14 years old in this case) as a passenger during a DUI arrest
The absence of a current driver's license and valid auto insurance at the time of an arrest may disqualify defendants from program entry. Any reports that a driver fled from the scene of an accident after committing a crime can also diminish his or her chances of acceptance.
It's important to note that program coordinators will factor in feedback from your peers, family, and the potential victims of the initial crime when dictating your approval or denial. Only with the help of an attorney will you able to identify potential challenges that could hurt your chances of being approved. In fact, the assistance of an attorney is actually required for entry in Chester County. A lawyer does the majority of the legwork, by attempting to convince your arresting officer, the prosecutor, and a judge that the ARD program is the best resolution to your criminal charges.
The costs of participating in this program are also dependent on circumstantial factors. A defendant may be required to pay court costs, fees, restitution, supervision costs, and any other additional charges that the DA may conclude. If you are granted acceptance into the Chester County ARD Program, you must submit a portion of the accumulated cost to the Clerk of Court. The program will then be responsible for putting defendants on a payment plan of sorts.
The failure to make payments on time or at all can get a defendant booted from the program. If that occurs, he or she will be put back on trial for their original charges.
In comparison with a standard Bucks County conviction, the ARD program offers several benefits. If successfully completed, a defendant will avoid conviction, get the duration of their license suspension (if applicable) significantly reduced, a jail sentence will not be enforced, and an expungement will be immediately ordered. From this point on, a person will not be required to disclose the incident, arrest, or charge to any company, school, residency etc. that asks about your criminal history.
Chester County ARD Attorney
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Chester 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.