The worst possible outcome of criminal charges for the majority of defendants is the creation of a criminal record. With the existence of a criminal record comes damaging repercussions such as severely limited job prospects, ineligibility for some government programs, reduced chances of acceptance into colleges or universities, and in some cases, less constitutional rights. But charges for a criminal offense don't have to be the end of the road.
In Montgomery 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 a 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.
This article 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 accepted.
What is the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program?
ARD is a diversionary pre-trial intervention program that is solely extended to first-time, non-violent criminal offenders. In very rare circumstances, it may be accessible to defendants with very limited run-ins with law enforcement. By focusing on rehabilitation and diversion from crime and addiction rather than punishment, this program gives qualified applicants the option of avoiding the creation of a criminal record and legal penalties. Success in this program is defined by if a member fully completes the terms assigned to him or her in an allocated time period.
While this program has the highest degree of compatibility - in terms of effectiveness - with defendants who've been charged with driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, the program also routinely accepts people who've acquired drug possession charges, people who sell drugs to fuel their addiction, and other crimes that don't involve violence of any form.
How Does This Program Work in Montgomery County?
After a hearing solidifies that a defendant is granted acceptance into this program, said person will automatically be placed on supervision or an informal probation. The program cannot outright call this supervision a probation period since the people in this program have not necessarily been found guilty of their allegations, however, it closely resembles a probation period. A defendant will even be assigned a supervisor - much like a probation officer - at a local office, who is responsible for making sure that you are following program guidelines, and fulfilling the duties in a timely manner.
The charges that a defendant originally acquired will be put on hold for an entire year. This year-long period is intended to give members enough time to fulfill all the requirements and conditions that must be completed for success. Based on the nature of the original case, the conditions assigned to a member will vary among members. Here are some of the general requirements imposed upon the average member in the ARD program:
- Paid restitution
- The completion of drug and alcohol counseling
- A driver's license suspension
- The completion of community service
- The avoidance of new charges while on supervision
- Random drug tests
- The completion of a driver's safety courses
Entry into the ARD Program
Every county in the state has its own version of the ARD program that administers different requirements for entry. The Montgomery County ARD program requires that each interested defendant submit an eight-page application to the District Attorney within 30 days of your scheduled preliminary hearing date.
Not every applicant is approved to partake in the ARD program. There are some circumstances that will make a defendant ineligible right away. These conditions include:
- Prior criminal or DUI convictions
- Prior participation in the program
- A case involving injuries
- Pending charges for assault, violence, or the involvement of weapons
- Previous accusations of domestic violence, any type of sex crime, stalking, or witness intimidation
- The presence of a minor child (under the age of 14 years old) as a passenger during a DUI arrest
The program also factors in feedback from an applicant's peers, family, and potential victims of a crime when considering whether or not to grant them acceptance. An attorney can help you identify potential barriers that could adversely affect your chances of being approved.
Throughout the application process, the help of an attorney is essential (and pretty much required) to maximize your chances of successful entry. A lawyer does a lot of the legwork, by speaking to your arresting officer and prosecutor in an effort to convince them 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 receive acceptance into the Montgomery 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 removed from the ARD program, and put him or her back on trial for their original charges.
In comparison with a standard Montgomery County DUI conviction and other crimes that allow entrance into this program, the ARD program offers multiple amazing benefits. Aside from not being convicted, if successfully completed, a defendant will also get the duration of their license suspension (if applicable) significantly reduced, he or she will completely avoid a jail penalty, and one will immediately be eligible to get documentation of your arrest expunged. From this point on, you will not be required to disclose this incident to any company, licensure, school, residency etc. that asks about criminal history.
Montgomery County ARD Attorney
If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Montgomery 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.