Every state has their own rules and regulations when it comes to how they treat DUI’s. Pennsylvania is no different and in fact has a program specifically designed for first time offenders. This program is called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition or “ARD”. The ARD program is a special pretrial diversionary program run by the individual District Attorney’s Office within each County and as such each has their own set of criteria on who can be admitted. In general I always advise clients that ARD does three (3) things. One, it keeps you out of jail which to many is a huge relief. If a person is arrested for a DUI and is not eligible for ARD they would be facing a mandatory 48-72 hours in jail for a first offense. Secondly, ARD significantly reduces an individuals suspension time and in some cases there is no suspension at all. Under the ARD program a person would be facing anywhere from no suspension to a two (2) month suspension. In some cases like if a minor is involved the suspension would be three (3) months. This is much better the mandatory one (1) year suspension if they are found guilty at trial. The third benefit to ARD is when and if a person completes the program, they can have the charges expunged off their record. It is important to that although this would be expunged from a person’s criminal record it would remain on their driving abstract.
Senator Pat Brown of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania was just admitted into the ARD program. He however caught a huge break in my mind. Unlike most of my clients who have no record at all, Senator Brown has actually had two prior DUI’s. Lucky for him both of his prior offenses occurred over ten (10) years ago. Since his priors occurred over 10 years ago it was the discretion of the DA’s office to allow the Senator into the program. The Lehigh County DA’s Office certainly did not have to allow the Senator to enter ARD, in fact many counties that I work in would not have allowed an individual with two prior offenses the benefit of ARD. After all ARD was originally established for first time offenders with no prior record. The Senator had two things working for him in his favor which tipped the scales in my opinion allowing him into ARD. First as previously discussed his last DUI was over sixteen (16) years ago and he has remained arrest free since then. Secondly, in the Senators present case his Blood Alcohol Content was a .09% which is slightly higher then the legal limit of a .08% in Pennsylvania. Lucky for the Senator this also means that he does not lose his driving privileges.
It is important to note that just because an individual is arrested for a first offense DUI, they do have other options besides ARD. ARD is a great option and often the path a first time offender will take. It is imperative that an attorney look at all options with their client to make sure the best result is being achieved. For example, if a person is arrested for a first offense DUI and otherwise eligible for ARD they may have case that has a strong defense such as there was no probable cause for the initial stop of the motor vehicle. If this is the case the client has an important decision to make whether to take ARD (the safer option) or go to trial because there was a fundamental constitutional right violated. Each client will have their own individual concerns but it is critical they understand that ARD is not the only option and has some negatives as well. For instance, one of the biggest downfalls to ARD comes if an individual hold a “CDL” or commercial drivers license. In this case even if a person blew a.08% and has no license suspension under ARD, they would lose their CDL license for 1 YEAR. A CDL license to many is the way that food is put on the table and bills are paid. This is way it is imperative that each case be evaluated on a case by case basis by a qualified DUI attorney.