It doesn’t take a battle-worn legal or law enforcement professional to know that if every person who drove illegally under the influence of alcohol or used an illegal substance were sentenced to jail, then our Pennsylvania state jails would be overflowing with people and our cities and towns underpopulated.
But whhile “zero tolerance” and treating substance-abuse issues as a criminal punishment matter and not a health issue has been the overriding modus operandi in the US for decades, the tide has started to shift in recent years.
In Pennsylvania, state courts have begun to provide increased access to alternative treatment and sentencing options for people facing DUI and minor offense drug charges. These options can help PA residents avoid jail time for their actions, while also helping them obtain life skills to improve their lives and avoid further problems with drugs and alcohol.
Judges generally have wide discretion in whether they decide to allow a defendant facing criminal charges to have the option of these programs (versus going to jail or facing other criminal penalties). Thus, it can be helpful to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side who can both inform you of your eligibility to participate in these alternative programs and advocate on your behalf to prosecutors and judges for admission to these programs to help you avoid jail time.
Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD)
One of these options is the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD). A defendant who is facing criminal penalties for a non-violent, relatively minor offense such as a drug possession or DUI charge can request admission into this program. First-time offenders are more likely to be eligible for entry, and again it will be up to the presiding judge to make the determination on eligibility.
Through the program, the judge will order that the defendant be kept under court-supervision for a period of up to two years (while avoiding jail time), and require that the defendant complete conditions of the program. These conditions will vary, and will be created based on the crime itself and the defendant’s circumstances. They might involve community service, drug and alcohol treatment and education, or even restitution to victims.
If the defendant who gains entry to the program completes the conditions of the program, he or she can avoid jail time, but, if not, may face the same criminal penalties initially faced.
Pennsylvania Drug Courts
While ADR can apply to a variety of low-level crimes, Pennsylvania also has Drug Courts specifically devoted to dealing with non-violent defendants facing low-level drug and alcohol charges.
Similar to ADR, the PA Drug Courts aim to provide rehabilitative services outside of the prison system. These courts involve prosecutors and judges, but the system is less adversarial than the general criminal courts in that they are specifically geared towards the long-term well-being of the defendant. The courts also incorporate drug and alcohol treatment providers and probation officers.
Rather than sentencing a defendant to prison, the court will seek to place the defendant in a treatment program and will mandate ongoing monitoring and supervision of the defendant (e.g. mandatory drug testing and court appearances) to promote his or her rehabilitation.
Work With a Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney in Your DUI or Drug Matter
If you or a family member have been arrested for DUI or a drug crime in Pennsylvania, you are encouraged to take the steps necessary to limit the consequences on your future and career. Speak with a criminal defense attorney today at the law office at the Martin Law Firm, P.C. in Southeastern Pennsylvania regarding your legal defense options.