If you are familiar with the Pennsylvania criminal justice system then you have probably heard about ARD. ARD is an acronym for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, and you can look at its codification here. Quoting from that code:
The primary purpose of this program is the rehabilitation of the offender; secondarily, the purpose is the prompt disposition of charges, eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming trials or other court proceedings. These rules contemplate that ordinarily the defendants eligible for the ARD program are first offenders who lend themselves to treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment and that the crime charged is relatively minor and does not involve a serious breach of the public trust. The program is intended to encourage offenders to make a fresh start after participation in a rehabilitative program and offers them the possibility of a clean record if they successfully complete the program. Because of the rehabilitative purpose of the program, and because the program permits prompt disposition of the charges, the descriptive title ‘‘accelerated rehabilitative disposition’’ was selected rather than such terms as ‘‘pre-indictment probation’’ or ‘‘deferred disposition.’’
What does that mean for you? It means that if you are a first time offender (or an offender with a great deal of time between offenses) and meet certain qualifications, which are usually determined by local rules established by the local District Attorney, you may be considered for the ARD program. An individual would want to be considered for the ARD program if the costs and conditions of the program (**including having to accept responsibility for the allegations in many instances**) are worth the benefit of it, namely the ability to have the matter expunged from the individual’s record.
It is always best to discuss if and how to incorporate such pre-trial disposition programs with an attorney well in advance because for many the decision to apply must be made at the preliminary hearing. And, you absolutely need to talk with an attorney about your case before deciding how to approach a preliminary hearing. For example, if you want to litigate a criminal matter because you feel that you were subject to an illegal search, then applying for ARD may not be your best option. This is due to the fact that many ARD programs require a waiver of the preliminary hearing, and if you want to litigate then you may need to start building your record by having a hearing at that stage. This kind of strategy/tactic decision needs to be made in consolation with an attorney who has sufficient experience not only in criminal law but also with the ARD program itself.
I have handled hundreds of criminal cases and guided many clients through the ARD process in several Pennsylvania counties. So, if you are a first-time or infrequent offender and are facing criminal charges contact me to talk about whether you are ARD eligible.