A person's first ever criminal charge is a life-changing moment that he or she won't forget. Many people, even upstanding citizens have found themselves exposed to the Delaware County criminal justice system at one point in their life. People in this situation feel an overwhelming amount of stress and uncertainty about what to expect, the process, and more importantly, the outcome of their case.
How harsh a sentence is will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of crime allegedly committed, if other people were harmed, if a deadly weapon was used, whether the crime is categorized as violent or nonviolent, if it is a sex crime, and more. Ultimately, in most circumstances, first-time convictions tend to carry relatively lenient sentences. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, however, defendants can get their charges completely dropped, making it possible to maintain a clean record.
Uncertainty about what comes next in the Delaware County criminal justice system may lead you to believe that you can't avoid a conviction. But this couldn't be further from the truth. With the help of an attorney, there are several ways you can get your charges dismissed. For the purposes of this article, we will explore the entirety of the county's criminal process, and the diversionary alternative you could be eligible for.
The Criminal Justice Process in Delaware County
At a preliminary hearing, a judge considers evidence that the prosecution (the Commonwealth) presents to decide whether there is probable cause to support the charges against you. If the prosecution fails to provide sufficient evidence, your case will be dismissed. If, however, the Magistrate judge concludes that the prosecution's evidence is sufficient enough to put you on trial, the case will advance to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.
After a preliminary hearing, a formal arraignment will be scheduled. At this phase in the process, the court will formally charge you with a crime. At this hearing, the court is responsible for informing you of the crime you were charged with, notify you of your right to legal counsel, ask you to enter a plea, and set an amount for bail. The most important part of the process is your choice to plead either “guilty” or “not guilty.” It's recommended you have an attorney by your side before making a plea so you can make the best possible decision.
A pre-trial conference is scheduled to notify a judge on the overall status of your case. A case could be in several states: a plea deal may be in the works, the case may be going straight to trial, or the case may be delayed for the discovery of new evidence. Whatever the situation may be, it will be discussed in the pre-trial conference.
If a plea deal isn't made in the pre-trial phase of this process, your case will go to trial. This is where you will be tried and receive a verdict. In most cases, your case will go before a jury trial. If you aren't too familiar with how trials are conducted, here are a general order of events:
- Opening statements
- Presentation of prosecution's evidence
- Presentation of defense's evidence
- Closing arguments
Practicing leniency towards first-time offenders is a method that is intended to avert habitual offending. People who are arrested for the first time are typically charged with minor, non-violent offenders like shoplifting or drug possession. As an alternative to severe punishment, Delaware County courts hold back from unleashing the full extent of the law by offering diversionary programs.
A diversionary program in the Delaware County criminal justice system is a type of sentence in which an offender can be rehabilitated. Rather than receiving a punishment for a crime, these programs offer an approach that aims to remedy the behavior that led to an arrest. For example, if the courts conclude that a person arrested for drug trafficking was selling drugs to support their drug addiction, he or she could be eligible for a diversionary program that deals with substance abuse. The same goes for other non-violent crimes like driving under the influence and theft.
Among the most popular and effective diversionary programs in Delaware County is the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. It keeps offenders accountable, while also helping them maintain a criminal record if successfully completed.
The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program
ARD is a pretrial diversionary intervention program that is exclusively offered to first-time, non-violent offenders in Delaware County. It is almost always recommended in cases involving DUIs, but program coordinators have extended eligibility to people who have been charged with drug crimes, theft crimes, and other non-violent offenses.
Members complete the program by fulfilling certain conditions within a year. Participation in this program requires that a person is placed on supervision, and assigned a supervisor that helps ensure they achieve their goals. The types of condition assigned will undoubtedly vary from member to member, based on the unique circumstances of each case. However, the average first-time offender in the ARD program can expect to be ordered to pay restitution, complete community service hours, undergo random drug tests, periodically check in with their supervisor, and attend some form of counseling.
Acceptance into the Delaware County ARD program requires the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. Just because a person may be a first-time, non-violent offender, it does not mean that they meet all of the eligibility requirements. An attorney can help you identify potential challenges that could minimize one's chances of being approved. A legal professional can also go the extra mile by attempting to convince a defendant's arresting officer, the prosecutor, and a judge that this program is the best resolution for an offender's criminal charges.
Delaware County Criminal Defense Attorney
If you've been arrested for the first time, you should consult with a Delaware County criminal defense attorney to discuss your options. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented countless clients who've acquired misdemeanor and felony charges and has helped them get their sentence reduced, and their charges dismissed. For a case evaluation, contact him today online or by phone at (215) 535-5353.