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Pennsylvania Courts Experiment with Different Approaches to DUI Cases

By Douglas Muth (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsProsecutions for driving under the influence (DUI) in Pennsylvania present multiple challenges for both courts and defendants. Because of the sheer number of criminal cases handled by Pennsylvania courts, defendants must often wait months or even years for a resolution. This can be a significant burden for a defendant who may require services or assistance that the criminal justice system, which often still places an emphasis on punishment, is not always equipped to provide. Several counties around the state have created special programs within their court systems to deal with these issues. Some counties have courts that focus specifically on DUI cases, while others more generally target cases involving alleged substance abuse. These programs may help certain defendants obtain needed services, a quicker resolution of their cases, and the possibility of a dismissal of all charges.

Judges and other officials in several counties investigated the volume of DUI cases moving through the courts. They discovered that defendants were not only accused of repeat DUI offenses, but of getting arrested for alleged DUI while out on bail during a pending DUI case. They sought to create programs to not only speed up the adjudication process, but also provide the opportunity for additional services for people with multiple arrest, charges, or convictions.

Officials in Blair County started the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program in order to address these issues. It is a pre-trial diversion program that puts a defendant under the county probation office’s supervision and assigns a treatment team. If the defendant abides by conditions set by the court, which might include treatment and education programs, as well as staying out of trouble for a specified period of time, the court dismisses the DUI charges. The defendant can apply for an expungement, meaning that all of the records of the case, from the arrest to the end of the court proceeding, are removed from court and police files. By 2011, not long after the ARD program started, the county reported that it was processing ninety-five percent of its DUI cases in six months or less, when the average case used to take more than a year.

Other counties are now considering programs modeled after Blair County’s ARD program. Officials from Montgomery County recently visited the ARD court to learn how to improve their own court systems. As of January 1, 2014, all DUI cases in the county are assigned to a single judge. The county reportedly handles more than 2,500 DUI cases every year, and they make up about one-fourth of all criminal cases filed there.

Allegheny County has reportedly had success with a DUI treatment program that allows defendants with two or more prior DUI arrests an opportunity to seek treatment or other assistance. While Blair County’s program can result in a dismissal and expungement, however, this program requires participants to plead guilty to DUI as a condition of participation. The question for anyone considering participating is whether the program’s benefits outweigh the cost of a conviction. With more than seven hundred total participants and a retention rate, according to the county of eighty-nine percent, it would appear that the program is benefitting some people.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania , it is critical that you consult with a qualified DUI lawyer to determine the best way to handle your defense. Zachary B. Cooper, Attorney at Law, P.C. has dedicated 100% of his practice to DUI defense. We are available to help you 24/7. Please contact us online or at (215) 542-0800 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

2013 Was a Tumultuous Year for Court Decisions in DUI Cases Regarding the Accuracy of Breathalyzer Results, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 12, 2014

Court Vacates DUI Sentence Based on Pennsylvania’s Merger Doctrine, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 6, 2014

Anatomy of a Pennsylvania DUI Offense: How is “Impairment” Defined? Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, January 21, 2014

Photo credit: By Douglas Muth (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.