Many people who take advantage of our free initial consultation ask, either directly or indirectly, whether it is necessary to have an attorney for a first offense when a “first time offender program” like Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) is offered. In short, it is always best to have an Attorney by your side when you have any Court appearance and a first time offender program is no different.
Initially, it is very important to have an attorney review your matter as a first time offender program may be inappropriate where a valid factual or legal defense exists. Many people who think that they were caught “red handed” may not realize that he government has a heavy burden when seizing a person or property and evidence that may seem incriminating can sometimes be suppressed due to improper government action. An attorney should be able to review the facts and the evidence with you during a free consultation and explain the benefits and disadvantages of proceeding either with a first time offender program like ARD, or defending through pre-trial practice and trial.
ARD programs vary based on county of offense, type of offense, and in the case of Driving After imbibing or DUI, blood alcohol level of offense. Although the basic premise of the ARD program remains the same – that is, a diversionary program designed to avoid incarceration and a permanent criminal record in exchange for costs and treatment – implementation is very different in many counties in Pennsylvania. For example, many counties will not allow an individual in ARD for a DUI where there is a very high blood alcohol level, or a child in the car, or an accident. Many counties reserve ARD for specific offenses, while offering other, similar programs for different offenses. Many counties require payment in full prior to entry into the program, while some will allow monthly payments. Experienced counsel should be able to provide all the details related to an individual’s specific charge and in the specific county.
However, there are benefits to obtaining legal counsel beyond experience and knowledge of the specific programs available. Most people eligible for diversionary programs like ARD are first time offenders and likely have limited contact with the Court. Most programs require appearance before multiple Judges at different level of Court, and often waiving significant legal rights accompanied by voluminous paperwork. The task, while not impossible, is daunting to many inexperienced and an attorney is often beneficial to walk you through the procedure of the program, and to be your voice when appearing in Court.
Contact us for a free consultation and one of our attorneys will be happy to go over all of your options and help you to overcome this legal issue.