A drug conviction in Pennsylvania can have severe and lasting consequences. Many people do not how harsh punishments can be until they have been sentenced to jail and lose their license, even for a small amount of marijuana or illegal prescription drugs. There are several state and county programs that can help first-time drug offenders and/or people with drug addiction to avoid really harsh sentences and prison time.
These are sometimes called “drug diversion programs”, “alternative to sentencing programs”, or “pretrial services”. They usually will require a drug treatment program instead of going to jail.
1. Alternative to Jail Programs
Two diversion programs include the ARD Program (Accelerated Rehabilitation Diversion Program) for first-time offenders and the Pennsylvania Drug Court. If you have been charged or arrested with possession of drugs you should speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case and eligibility for the alternative to jail programs.
You may not automatically qualify for these programs and may need to apply and be accepted by the court system. We can help you with that process. An experienced criminal attorney can help you negotiate and plea your case so that you have the best chance possible of having your sentence reduced or your charges dropped.
2. Drug Court Programs
Drug Court Programs were created for people with substance abuse problems who have been arrested or charged with drug possession. They typically combine mandatory drug testing, substance abuse treatment, and judicial supervision to help people get off drugs and out of the criminal justice system.
The drug treatment program is an alternative to going to prison with the goal of helping drug abusers stay sober.
Eligibility into a Pennsylvania Drug Court
In order to be considered for Pennsylvania Drug Court, you must have no prior criminal record and must not have any pending charges for violent crimes. Candidates may be identified by the District Attorney or referred by an attorney.
Most people accepted into the program are non-violent drug offenders.
Drug Treatment Court Program
In existence since 1998, the Allegheny County Drug Court Program places individuals with drug abuse problems into an intensive drug treatment program as an alternative to incarceration.
Once a person is deemed eligible, they must plead guilty to all related charges.
The average sentence is 23 months followed by six months of probation. Depending on the individual’s progress, the sentence could be shortened at the discretion of the judge.
3. Accelerated Rehabilitation Diversion Programs (ARD)
Accelerated Rehabilitation Diversion Programs (ARD Program) are designed for a first time offenders of minor drug possession charges who have no prior criminal convictions. ARD is a probationary program that could help you avoid a license suspension and jail time. After completion of the ARD program your attorney can move the court to have your charges dismissed and possibly expunged from your record.
The District Attorney determines admission to diversion programs and you must apply in order to be considered.
In order to complete the program, you will have to attend drunk driving school (Alcohol Highway Safety School) and pay court ordered restitution, as well as attend meetings, among other stipulations the DA may set.
Acceptance into Accelerated Rehabilitation Diversion Programs (ARD)
There are many restrictions that keep people from being accepted into the ARD program in Pennsylvania. You have to be a first-time offender to even apply. If you have a prior criminal record, you will not be accepted.
Your lawyer will file a petition to the District Attorney for acceptance into the program. This is usually done around the time of your preliminary hearing or arraignment.
Requirements Once Accepted Into the ARD Program
In order to complete the program successfully, you may have to attend substance abuse treatment programs, perform community service, and pay court-ordered restitution, among other stipulations the District Attorney may set.
Expungement of Criminal Record After ARD Program Completion
Although technically your charges will be dismissed after successfully completing the ARD program, your criminal record will still show the arrest unless you have your record “expunged”.
Your attorney may file a petition to have your criminal record expunged. This means that your arrest will be taken off of your criminal record and potential landlords, employers, and financial institutions and colleges will not be able to see it. But a petition must be filed in order for that to happen.
ARD Program – Violations
If a person does not comply with the stipulations of the ARD program or does not complete all of the requirements, they will be removed from the program. The original charges will apply and the ARD violator could go to jail.
If you are arrested again while in the ARD program, you will most likely be removed from the program.
You will not automatically qualify for the ARD program – you have to apply and then be accepted by the District Attorney. We can help you with that process. If you are a candidate, we can also help you with the process of going through the Pennsylvania Drug Court Program.
If you are not guilty of the charges and do not want to enter into ARD or plead guilty, we will fully investigate your case and fight to have your charges dropped completely.
Pittsburgh Plea Disposition Quickly (PDQ)
The PDQ Program in Pittsburgh is for people who have violated the ARD program (or not successfully completed the program) or for people who have two or more arrests or convictions. You can think of it as the “pretty damn quick” program. The PDQ Program serves as a treatment program in lieu of a lengthy jail sentence or long license suspension. Successful completion of this program can help people limit the amount they would have to spend in jail otherwise and limit the time for license suspension to only one year.
You will need to attend a hearing to make your plea, after which your license will be suspended for a year. Credit toward your license suspension is only given after jail time completion.
If you were charged with a drug crime, you should talk to an experienced drug lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options. Additionally, our criminal defense attorneys frequently represent people charged with felonies in Pittsburgh. Contact the drug crime lawyers at SMT Legal Today.