By Robert M. Going, Attorney
Driving while under the influence can change the life of a Lancaster County driver in an instant. Pennsylvania is not tolerant of DUI drivers and the associated penalties of a DUI charge are severe. Depending on the level of alcohol in their system, whether they are a minor or a commercial driver, and the circumstances surrounding their arrest, convicted DUI drivers can face probation, license suspension, steep fines, and possible jail time under Pennsylvania law.
Fortunately for first-time offenders who have never been in trouble before, punishment is not the only focus of state law. There is also an effort to rehabilitate: the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. ARD is not the only option, so it’s always wise to consult an experienced DUI attorney to determine the best course of action when faced with a DUI conviction that could ruin their finances and their future. A DUI lawyer also can help navigate the paperwork, court appearances, and other legal matters that may cause added stress for first-time offenders.
Those for whom ARD is an option may find that they can avoid some of the longer-lasting consequences of a DUI conviction. Here’s what you need to know about DUIs and ARDs in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania:
What is ARD?
Also known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, ARD is a program for first-time DUI offenders. The goal is to offer DUI offenders early intervention and to help prevent repeat offenses. By focusing on rehabilitation whenever possible, the ARD program also keeps cases out of the criminal justice system, saving the cost of court proceedings and freeing up state resources for other purposes. For the offender, the biggest advantage of the ARD program is the opportunity to keep the DUI charge off their driving record.
What Happens in the ARD Program?
Drivers admitted to an ARD program in Lancaster County will remain under a period of probation-like supervision for a period of up to two years. They also must meet a number of requirements to successfully complete the program, such as an assessment for drug and alcohol addiction, any necessary drug or alcohol treatment program, alcohol and highway safety training, community service, and payment of any fines and fees. In Lancaster County, admittance into the ARD program carries a license suspension of anywhere between zero and 90 days and 15 to 50 community service hours, depending on the blood alcohol content recorded.
Charges against the offender are essentially put on hold while they are in the ARD program. Failing to successfully complete the ARD program or violating its terms will result in removal from the program. In such cases, the charges return to the court docket and the defendant proceeds to trial.
Who is Eligible for ARD in Lancaster County?
Drivers arrested in Lancaster County for driving under the influence may qualify for the ARD program if they have insurance and a clean driving record, they did not cause injury to people or damage to property, and they have not been charged with DUI in the past 10 years. They will not qualify if they had a passenger under the age of 14, an extensive driving record, a suspended license, or a blood alcohol level over 0.30 percent. ARD is a form of lenient probation, so participation in the program is at the discretion of the Lancaster district attorney’s office.
Even with the recommendation of the DA’s office, a judge will have the final say on whether an offender gains admittance to the ARD program and how long the program will last. Lancaster County drivers arrested for DUI are wise to hire an experienced Lancaster ARD lawyer who can present adequate evidence and a well-reasoned argument for admission into the program. Even if the district attorney has already denied admittance to the program, a DUI attorney can take additional measures, such as seeking character references and a recommendation from the arresting officer, to reverse the decision.
What Happens After ARD?
ARD essentially delays a DUI court case with the promise of dismissal as long as the defendant meets the requirements of the program. After successfully completing the ARD program, and avoiding any additional charges, a defendant can petition the court to have the original charges dismissed and all records expunged. All agencies will destroy all records of the arrest, and state and local police and the courts will also destroy the records. Successful ARD participants can also answer “no” when asked if they have ever been convicted of a crime.
Is ARD Always the Best Option? A DUI Lawyer can Help.
In many cases, the answer is yes. But there are exceptions. While the ARD program may seem like the easiest way for an offender to clear their driving record, lower fines, shorten a license suspension, and possibly avoid mandatory jail time, it is not without its consequences. In addition to the mandatory requirements of the program, ARD participants are subject to six months to a year of probation and fines ranging from $1,500 to $2,000.
Additionally, even though completion of the program may result in a clean record, the ARD will still count as a first, or prior offense should the defendant get another DUI conviction within the next 10 years. That second offense typically carries stiffer penalties, including some form of mandatory prison term. Offenders who believe they are innocent, or for whom driving is their livelihood, should consult a Lancaster ARD attorney to decide if the ARD program makes sense or if taking the case to trial is the better option.
A DUI arrest can be scary, especially since the most lenient sentences can include fines and suspension. That’s why it’s important for those charged with DUI to review their case with an experienced Lancaster ARD lawyer so they can understand the complexities of DUI law, determine whether they can fight or reduce the charges, and learn whether ARD is a viable option. Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank to schedule a case evaluation today.
Want to read more about DUIs and ARDs in Lancaster County? Check out these articles and blogs.