First Time Offenders

When you are arrested for the first time in Pennsylvania, you are probably assaulted with a wide array of emotions which likely include things like shock, fear, frustration, and confusion. Many people go through life thinking that they will never be arrested, that it's something that just happens to "other people," and thus are bewildered and frightened when they find themselves facing their first criminal charges in Philadelphia.

Not only can a qualified Philadelphia criminal defense attorney help you put to rest these negative emotions, but he can begin working on a proactive defense to your case using your status as a first-time offender as a mitigating factor or as a means to participate in one of Pennsylvania's pretrial diversion programs.

Philadelphia First Time Offender Defense Attorney

A first-time arrest can be an intimidating experience, and for good reason. Not only could you potentially face presumptive sentencing such as jail time or fines, but your clean criminal record and the opportunities attached to it are threatened. If you are a first-time offender arrested and charged with any criminal offense in the Philadelphia area, Lento Law Firm can fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed, or otherwise find a favorable outcome for your case – such as found in pretrial diversion programs.

Joseph Lento has years of experience in the Philadelphia court system. He knows what options are available to you as a first-time offender in the Philadelphia area, as well as what it takes to defeat your charges in court. To find out what Lento Law Firm can do for your case as a Philadelphia first-time offender, call (215) 535-5353 today and schedule your free initial case consultation.

Philadelphia First-Time Offender Information Center

Pennsylvania's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program in Philadelphia

Commonly referred to as ARD, the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program was created by Pennsylvania to divert first-time offenders, especially for nonviolent crimes, from the criminal justice system into rehabilitation so as to invest in the reduced risk of that person becoming a repeat offender. These programs are often referred to in other states as pretrial diversion programs or deferred disposition programs.

This process is governed by 234 Pa. Code Rule §§ 300-320, which assigns the duty of determining eligibility for ARD to the district attorney. The process therefore varies county-by-county, but generally involves the following requirements:

  • Waiving of your right to preliminary hearing
  • Completion and return of paperwork to the court on or before your preliminary hearing date
  • Lack of any prior misdemeanor or felony convictions in this state or another jurisdiction, including in military tribunal court
  • Lack of any pending misdemeanor or felony charges in this state or another jurisdiction, including in military tribunal court
  • No previous participation in an ARD program or similar pretrial diversion program
  • Criminal charge involved in the case is not for a violent crime or sex crime
  • Waiving of your right to speedy trial
  • Payment of court costs

The Philadelphia District Attorney has full discretion as to which cases will be accepted into the ARD program and which cases will not be accepted. Mainly nonviolent cases such as retail theft/shoplifting, DUI, white collar crime, and traffic crimes are eligible for ARD, while cases of minor assault require the agreement of the victim to ARD. In Philadelphia, only your experienced criminal defense lawyer can contact the district attorney to determine eligibility for your first-time offender case.

Once accepted into your ARD program, the Commonwealth will suspend your charges and order you to complete requirements like restitution to any victims, rehabilitative classes, community service, a drug or alcohol evaluation, counseling, a period of supervision similar to probation, and reasonable financial support related to the cost and administration of such a program. Fines may not be imposed as a condition of ARD, and the accelerated rehabilitative disposition program may not last for longer than two years.

If the ARD program is successfully completed, the suspended charges for your first offense will be dismissed and you will be eligible for a clean record 30 days after your Philadelphia ARD program is completed. Failure to successfully complete the ARD program will result in your first offender case going to trial. A skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney serving Philadelphia first-time offenders can help you determine which, if any, first offender program such as ARD is best for your case and walk you through the steps they require.

Philadelphia First Offenders and the Section 17 Drug Program

Some of the most common arrests involving first time offenders in Philadelphia are drug-related – specifically, drug possession or possession of a controlled substance. For a first offender in Philadelphia who can prove he or she is drug-dependent, there are two options available under 35 P.S. § 780-117 & 780-118, known as Section 17 and Section 18 of the Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act, respectively.

Section 17 provides a drug-dependent, nonviolent offender of the drug act with an option of probation without verdict. To prove drug dependency, the defendant must provide the testimony of a physician or psychologist trained in the field. To be placed on Section 17 probation, you must plead guilty or nolo contendre (no contest) to the nonviolent drug offense you are charged with and agree to the requirements of special probation, such as treatment for drug addiction.

The length of the special probation without verdict under Section 17 will not exceed the maximum sentence allowed by law for the nonviolent drug offense with which you are charged. Successful completion of Section 17 probation, including the fulfillment of all requirements, means a discharge of you as a defendant and the dismissal of your Philadelphia nonviolent drug case without a judgment of guilt. Defendants not eligible for the Section 17 program include those with the following disqualifications:

  • Previous conviction for a drug crime
  • Previous conviction for any misdemeanor or felony
  • Previous placement in a Pennsylvania ARD program for any offense
  • Existence of separate charges that arise from a separate criminal episode and can be tried separately
  • Existence of a juvenile delinquency that labeled the defendant a dangerous juvenile offender
  • Juvenile delinquency for the following:
    • drug manufacture or delivery
    • drug possession with intent to manufacture or deliver
    • possession of more than 30 doses of a controlled substance
  • Charge in question is for one of the following:
    • unlawful distribution of a controlled substance by a practitioner
    • drug manufacturing or delivery
    • drug possession with intent to manufacture or deliver
    • possession of more than 30 doses of a controlled substance

Philadelphia First Offenders and the Section 18 Drug Program

Section 18 of the drug act is a deferred disposition program that provides for drug-dependent, first-time offenders charged with any nonviolent crime who request appropriate treatment prior to trial. This includes admission or commitment of the defendant under the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966. A court-appointed physician experienced or trained in drug dependency and drug abuse evaluates the defendant, as well as his or her record if necessary.

The physician then advises the defendant, the district attorney, and the court in writing whether prosecution should be withheld or withdrawn in favor of the treatment and rehabilitation of the defendant, or if criminal charges should proceed. Upon a recommendation for treatment, it is up to the Philadelphia district attorney to decide whether or not to abide by the physician's recommendation under Section 18.

If the district attorney for Philadelphia accepts the physician's recommendation for withheld or withdrawn prosecution in favor of drug rehabilitation of the defendant under Section 18, the court will make arrangements for treatment. The charge may not be prosecuted so long as the director of the treatment facility certifies the defendant is cooperating in and benefiting from prescribed treatment. Prosecution may be withheld under Section 18 for no longer than the statute of limitations or maximum term length for the offense. At the end of this period, the Philadelphia drug charge will be automatically dismissed.

Finding the Best Philadelphia Attorney for First-Time Offenders

First offender programs like ARD, Section 17, and Section 18 are available to the defendant only once. Additionally, there are other options available to you as a first-time offender than the programs – such as negotiating with the prosecution or working toward a case reduction or dismissal. If you have been arrested for the first time in Philadelphia, Lento Law Firm can explore all the defense options with you, as well as walk your case through any related record sealing or expungement processes.

Joseph Lento is a skilled and knowledgeable Philadelphia criminal defense attorney who knows what it takes to achieve a favorable outcome, and is not afraid to take your first time offender case to trial if necessary. Your first consultation with Lento Law Firm is free, so call (215) 535-5353 today and schedule yours.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has nearly a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania and New Jersey attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, Outside of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance is educational advice, and does not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

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