Prosecutions 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. Continue reading