A conviction for a drug crime not only results in serious penalties like jail or prison time, but it can also lead to a criminal record that can have lasting, negative consequences such as difficulty getting a job, finding a place to live, or living a normal life. However, the courts understand that many people who are charged with a drug crime are first-time offenders or battling drug addiction.
That is why drug diversion programs—also known as pretrial services—are available that require participation in a drug treatment program, rather than serving time behind bars. If you successfully complete the program, your charges will be dismissed, and your record can be expunged.
There are three types of drug diversion programs in Pennsylvania: The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program, the Section 17 Disposition Program, and Pennsylvania Drug Court. The following is a breakdown of each program.
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program
The ARD Program allows individuals with no criminal record or a very limited criminal history to get their charges dismissed after completing the program. To qualify for this program, you need to be a first-time offender, which means you haven’t been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in any state. The ARD Program doesn’t apply to violent offenders.
The following types of crimes are eligible for the ARD Program in Pennsylvania:
You have up to one year to fulfill the specific requirements to get your charges dismissed. Only the District Attorney’s Office can decide whether you can enter the program, which is why having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can help.
The requirements of the ARD Program include:
- Attend drug and/or alcohol counseling
- Pass routine drug tests to ensure sobriety
- Fulfill community service
- Regularly meet with a program supervisor
- Pay court costs, restitution, and/or other legal fees associated with the program
Section 17 Disposition Program
If you are facing a first-time misdemeanor drug charge such as simple possession, you may be eligible for the state’s Section 17 Disposition Program, which is also known as the Probation Without Verdict (PWOV) Program. If you have previously been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony drug crime, have previously been placed in the ARD program, or considered a dangerous juvenile offender, you are not eligible for the PWOV Program.
The following are the requirements to participate in the PWOV Program:
- Plead guilty to the drug crime
- Prove that you have a drug addiction or dependency issue
- Be placed on probation that doesn’t last more than your maximum sentence if convicted
This program lasts between 30 days and one year.
Pennsylvania Drug Court
If you have been charged with non-violent felony drug possession or possession with intent to sell or distribute, you may be eligible for the state’s Drug Court. However, this type of program only applies to drug dealers who sell drugs in order to support their addiction.
If the District Attorney’s Office makes an initial offer during the pre-trial phase of the legal process, you must plead guilty to all charges in order to enter the program. Then, a drug court case manager will interview you to determine the level of care necessary for successful rehabilitation.
The following are the requirements you must fulfill once you enter the Drug Court program:
- Regularly meet with a probation officer and a drug court caseworker
- Wear an electronic monitoring device (only applies to outpatient care)
- Pass routine drug testing to ensure sobriety
- Pay any court costs, restitution, and/or other legal fees associated with the program
Pennsylvania Drug Court may last up to one year for misdemeanors and up to three years for felonies.