How to Avoid a Criminal Record for First-Time Offenders

If you have a criminal record, it can seriously impact your life. A conviction can cause you to lose your job or to have problems finding a new position. Some convictions may cause you to lose your ability to get financial aid for school. You could also lose your government benefits and have trouble getting into a college of your choice or into the military. If you are a first-time offender of a minor offense, you might be able to participate in a diversion program to avoid a conviction.

Every county in Pennsylvania has its own district attorney’s office. These offices have their own diversion programs and admission requirements. At DiCindio Law, we can advise you about whether you might qualify for a diversion program and help you to apply if you do. The benefit of these programs is that your charges could be withdrawn, and you might be able to have them expunged from your record. Some of the diversion programs that are available in Chester County include the following:

• Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program or ARD
• Drug Court
• Mental Health Court pre-plea or post-plea diversion

What is a diversion program?

A diversion program allows you to have your criminal case diverted away from going to trial. Depending on whether your diversion is pre- or post-plea, you might not have to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. You may be assigned a probation officer who will supervise your progress in the diversion program. When you successfully complete it, the charges against you may be dismissed or withdrawn. They can then be expunged from your record. Commonly, these programs require you to pay fines, perform community service, attend drug and alcohol treatment, and attend other classes. You may also be required to meet with the probation officer and to submit to drug and alcohol tests. If you are placed in a diversion program, it is important that you comply with all of the instructions so that you can complete it and have your charges dismissed.

The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program (ARD)

The ARD program was created by statute and is available in all counties in Pennsylvania. If you do not have any prior arrests or have a very limited history, you might be eligible for the ARD program. The ARD program may be available to you if you are facing charges for a low-level misdemeanor, including the following types (depending on the county you are charged in):

  • DUI
  • Receiving stolen property
  • Theft
  • Harassment
  • Simple assault
  • Criminal mischief
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Retail theft
  • Passing bad checks
  • Simple possession

The District Attorney determines who can be admitted into the ARD program. Even if you are facing one of the previously listed charges, the circumstances might result in you being rejected from ARD. Conversely, if you have been overcharged, it is possible that you might gain admission to ARD even if you are facing more serious charges.

Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney may help you to gain admission to the ARD program. An attorney might know how to complete the application and who to talk to at the DA’s office in order to give you the best chances of being admitted.

Drug Court

The Chester County Drug Court Program was the second such program in the state of Pennsylvania. This program is available to people who are charged with non-mandatory drug crimes or DUIs with drug offenses who do not have any record of violent offenses. In order to be eligible to participate, you must waive your right to a preliminary hearing and legally reside in the U.S.

The District Attorney has discretion about who to admit to the drug court program. Your lawyer can submit an application on your behalf, and you will have to complete a drug and alcohol assessment. If you are accepted, you will be assigned to a probation officer for intensive supervision. You will go through several phases during the program, and you must submit to drug and alcohol tests, appear before the court for regular reviews, and comply with all of the program’s rules. You will also have to actively seek or maintain a job or engage in productive activity each day and pay costs and fines. If you successfully complete all of the phases of the drug court program, maintain your sobriety, and have stable employment (among potential other conditions) the court will dismiss your charges and you can expunge them from your record.

If you violate any of the conditions of the drug court program, you can be removed from it or receive sanctions. The program takes from 12 to 24 months and goes through four phases. If you violate the program, the program may last longer. If you are removed from it, you will face the underlying charges and will have to handle them through the regular criminal court process.

Mental health court

The mental health court program is available on a pre-plea or post-plea diversionary basis or as a referral from probation. You may be eligible for mental health court if you are diagnosed with a mental illness or a dual diagnosis of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder and have been charged with a misdemeanor or certain felony offenses. The mental health court staff complete screenings to determine eligibility. If you are accepted into the program, you will move through four phases. If your participation was completed on a pre-plea diversionary basis, the charges may be dismissed upon your successful completion. If you were referred and accepted to the program on a post-plea diversionary basis, you will be required to complete the programs supervision requirements after pleading guilty.

Contact DiCindio Law

If you are a first offender of a low-level misdemeanor offense or are facing charges for certain felony drug offenses, you may be eligible for a diversion program. Contact DiCindio Law to learn more about diversion and whether it might be a good choice for you.


DISCLAIMER
The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

Michael D. DiCindio, Esq. is a West Chester criminal defense lawyer and personal injury attorney who represents individuals accused of crimes or injured by the negligence of others throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale