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What is the ARD Program in Pennsylvania, and how does it work?

Recently, a county judge admitted two defendants in the Pennsylvania Turnpike scandal into the state's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program ("ARD"). This was an alternative to requiring them to stand trial on various criminal charges, and it put the ARD program front and center. What is this program and how does it work?

The ARD program was established by the Pennsylvania legislature to provide an alternative to a criminal trial for persons who are accused of a nonviolent crime and who have no prior criminal record. A person can enter the program at the request of his attorney or upon the request of the prosecutor. Entry into the program requires the approval of the trial judge, and each entrant must pay a fee to cover the cost of the program. The two turnpike officials each paid a fee of $1,200.

While the ARD program is aimed primarily at driving violations, it can be used in any criminal case, where the defendant satisfies the statutorily prescribed provisions of the program. If a defendant successfully completes the program, the original criminal charges will be dismissed, and all criminal records will be expunged. All persons in the program are required to perform a specified number of hours of public service.

The program reports periodically to the courts to ensure that all enrollees are making satisfactory progress and abiding by the conditions of the program. If a person fails or refuses to satisfy the conditions of the program, the trial judge may order expulsion from the program and a re-institution of the criminal proceedings. Any person accused of a non-violent crime and who has no previous criminal record should inquire of his attorney or the court about whether he or she is eligible for the ARD Program.

Source: Harrisburg Patriot-News, "Two Pa. turnpike scandal defendants get chance to avoid criminal records," Matt Miller, Sept. 30, 2014

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