An arrest for illegal drugs or narcotics can result in felony misdemeanor charges. A conviction for Illegal Possession or Possession with the Intent to Deliver or Distribute (PWID), can seriously limit a person’s opportunities in various professional fields, such as law enforcement and healthcare, along with a number of management positions in some of the world’s largest corporations.
What is Section 17?
While people charged with drug crimes have a number of options available to them, from a defense standpoint, disposition to a diversion program is sometimes necessary where there is little probability of success at the pretrial level through a Motion to Suppress Evidence or at the trial level. A common diversion program for first time drug offenders is Section 17, which is named for Section 17 of Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act. Section 17 is sometimes known as probation without verdict or Section 17 probation.
Who is Eligible for Section 17?
This type of non-trial disposition isn’t available to everyone, and the following persons are not eligible for this program:
- Those who have been previously convicted of an offense under Pennsylvania’s Drug Act or similar act of any state.
- Those with a previous felony or misdemeanor conviction in Pennsylvania or an equivalent crime under the law of any other state.
- Those who have been previously been placed on the ARD Program where the person was charged with a violation of Pennsylvania’s Drug Act or another misdemeanor or felony offense in Pennsylvania.
- Those who have been previously designated as dangerous juvenile offenders.
- Section 17 is not available for those charged with felony drug offenses but only misdemeanor offenses such as Simple Possession.
What happens procedurally in court?
If a person is eligible for this program, they will plead guilty to a non-violent drug offense and be placed on probation for a specific amount of time. This is different from the ARD and AMP programs. This probation can’t exceed the maximum amount of time for the specific offense. For example, Simple Possession of a drug like cocaine is a misdemeanor of the first degree and the maximum sentence that a person can receive under the law is 5 years in state prison. While a person in the Section 17 program would more than likely not receive a 5 year probation sentence, a judge could not sentence this person to a probationary period beyond 5 years. Another condition of the Section 17 program is that a person must have a drug addiction or established drug dependence.
What is benefit of Section 17 over a traditional plea?
The major benefit of Section 17 is that if one successfully completes it, the court will discharge the case and all the charges will be dismissed against the accused. Once the charges are dismissed, a person is eligible for an expungement to clean up the arrest record. Every county in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, has its own Section 17 program, but acceptance is at discretion of the District Attorney’s Office in that particular county. An added benefit of Section 17 disposition is that this first time offender will not have his or her driving privileges suspended in Pennsylvania, in addition to avoiding a permanent criminal conviction.
What are the conditions of this program?
It’s important to keep in mind that, while on Section 17 probation, a person is subject to reporting requirements and random drug testing. If a person fails to maintain or complete the conditions of the program, he or she will be removed from it and be sentenced based on the sentencing guidelines for that particular offense. A person in the Section 17 program is not eligible for a trial due to the previous plea which they entered into as a condition for the program which is why its called probation without verdict.
For more great information on criminal defense strategies and tactics in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, keep reading my blog and check out my free download section. Remember, you have a constitutional right to go to trial but before proceeding in that direction always consider your other options.