The Most Common Pennsylvania Pre-Trial Criminal Diversion Programs – ARD, AMP, Section 17
Our criminal defense law firm frequently encounters clients who have no prior criminal history. They’re often charged with summary or misdemeanor offenses such as drunk driving, minor drug possession, petty theft, or some type of minor physical altercation or disorderly conduct.
Clients who find themselves charged with these types of offenses are normally more concerned with a stain on their otherwise clean records that could limit their educational or professional opportunities. Competition for acceptance into a certain school or a promotion will always be tough. Job applicants often have very similar grades, achievements and even similar personal statements. It’s not necessarily fair, but acceptance or hiring committees need something concrete on which to make a decision. A small slip in judgment might be the difference in an application.
Pennsylvania has several diversion programs for minor criminal offenses, but it’s the responsibility of the individual and his or her attorney to investigate the possibility of getting into these programs. Entry isn’t automatic and usually requires direct negotiation with the assigned assistant district attorney and in some cases the victim(s).
The Most Common Diversion Programs in Pennsylvania
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD)
The most common diversion program in Philadelphia County is Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). The primary benefit of ARD is a guaranteed result. I often explain to our clients that no attorney can ethically guarantee a certain result in a case that goes to trial. While attorneys may provide very confident opinions of a potential outcome, they must nevertheless explain the possibility of a conviction. Diversion programs offer the benefit of guaranteed positive results and normally provide clients with the ability to have their records expunged after they successfully complete the program’s requirement.
Accelerated Misdemeanor Program (AMP) – What is the difference between AMP I and AMP II?
The AMP program is reserved for non-violent, first time offenders charged with misdemeanors. This program requires a person to satisfy conditions which either involves drug treatment or some type of community service depending on the actual criminal charge. Defendants have a limited time to complete these conditions and it is typically within 5 weeks after acceptance. If the conditions are satisfied, the DA’s office will withdraw prosecution and the person is eligible for an expungement without opposition. A person isn’t required to enter a plea under the AMP 1 program
AMP II isn’t for first time offenders but for those with limited convictions or non-violent pasts. Unlike AMP I, AMP II participants aren’t typically eligible for an expungement. Further, if a person fails to complete AMP II the case will not proceed to trial (unlike ARD and AMP I) but a person will proceed directly to sentencing. AMP II requires a person to enter a plea prior to acceptance into the program.
Section 17 (Probation without verdict)
Section 17 is reserved for non-violent drug offenses and is often referred to as probation without verdict. Similar to other diversion programs, if a person fails to satisfy conditions (because they previously entered a plea to these charges), they will proceed directly to sentencing. It is a very good result because, again, it will not result in a criminal conviction but successful competition will result in all charges being dismissed. If you fail to complete the Section 17 program, your case will proceed directly to sentencing and you will not have a trial!
What is an Expungement?
When a record is expunged, all law enforcement agencies (local, state, and federal) receive a court order requiring them to erase any evidence (fingerprints, mug shot, reports) that a person was arrested, charged, or appeared in court for an offense.
What happens if you fail to complete a pre-trial diversion program? Why you should not ignore the specific program requirements
All diversion programs will require you to satisfy certain conditions. Procedurally the programs will first require you to waive any right to a speedy trial under Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 (a). This means that your case could take longer than a year to work its way through the system and normally Rule 600 requires the Commonwealth to bring a case to trial within one year after a criminal complaint is filed unless there are continuances or delays due to the defense as opposed to the Commonwealth. Defense delays or continuances do not count against the speedy trial clock. If you fail to complete the diversion program the speedy trial clock will begin to run again on the date you are removed from the program under Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600(c)
While these diversion programs allow clients to avoid trial, those who participate in these programs must understand that each program has certain strict requirements the individual must complete. Failure to complete the requirements could result in a person’s dismissal from the program. Once a person is removed from a program, his case is scheduled for trial, and the only way to avoid a possible conviction is an acquittal.
Program requirements are based on the nature of the offense and usually consist of drug treatment, alcohol counseling, anger management, making restitution, performing a certain number of hours of community service, or a combination of these conditions. In some cases, the programs even require a written apology to the alleged victim. While most clients gladly accept entry into diversion programs, some find it difficult when they firmly believe they’re innocent. In short, if you’re charged with a crime and have no previous criminal history, discuss diversion programs with your attorney. If your principles prevent you from accepting a program’s requirements, your only alternative is a trial.
Pre-Trial Diversion Programs may be a great option for you but never assume that you are eligible and never assume that a diversion program is your best option. Always talk to a qualified criminal defense lawyer and don’t ignore your responsibility to complete all of the program requirements!
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