DUI and ARD in Lancaster County, PA – What are your options?
By Ed Pfursich, Esquire.
The Driving Under the Influence (DUI) law in Pennsylvania carries serious consequences. A conviction can affect your driver’s license, your job, and your freedom. If you have been charged with a first offense DUI in Lancaster County or anywhere in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the first thing you have to do is understand your options. I tell my clients that you basically have three (3) choices:
1. You can plead guilty and accept the punishment. This usually means going to jail for either 48 or 72 hours, as well as at least a one (1) year loss of license and a permanent criminal record. I usually advise against this option, or at least suggest that we engage in plea negotiations to try to reach a less severe resolution.
2. You can fight the charge. This means going to court and contesting the allegations. There are several ways to fight a DUI charge. Even a client who admits that he was too drunk to drive may have certain avenues of contesting the case. For example, did the police officer have probable cause to conduct the traffic stop that led to the DUI charges? If not, the entire case can be thrown out. Did the police officer follow proper procedures when obtaining a blood or breath sample? Again, if not, the results of those tests can be suppressed (excluded) by the Court. There are a number of other ways that an attorney can attack a DUI prosecution (too numerous to list here).
3. You can apply for a “diversionary program.” In Lancaster County the Office of the District Attorney may offer DUI offenders the ARD program under certain circumstances. ARD stands for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. The benefits of ARD include:
-No jail time.
-No criminal record.
-A significantly shorter driver’s license loss.
Some of the negatives about ARD are:
-It’s expensive- In Lancaster County there is a $600 initial fee payable to the County of Lancaster, followed by additional expenses once accepted into the program.
-You have to give up important rights, such as the right to a speedy resolution of your case and the right to have a preliminary hearing.
-The requirements of ARD are not easy- it usually includes community service and completion of an Alcohol Highway Safety class.
When faced with these choices many of my clients who are eligible for the program chose the ARD option. It’s the safer more predictable choice. Fighting the charge is usually an all or nothing gamble. Either you win and are found Not Guilty or you lose and have to deal with all the consequences of a criminal conviction. However, in some cases, fighting the charge is the best option and I’ve had many clients achieve favorable results by contesting the charge.
If you’ve been charged with DUI, the best thing to do is to consult with an experienced attorney who can review the specifics of your case and advise you as to the best course of action. Every case is different and every client is different. Doing research on your own is a good first step but with such high stakes, you need to talk to an expert.
*Attorney Ed Pfursich (Fur-sik) is a former Lancaster County prosecutor who now practices primarily criminal defense at The Cody Law Firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.