I have been asked this question many different times by people who come into my office. I strongly believe the answer to this question is “Yes”. Although nobody needs a lawyer for a first offense DUI / ARD case, legal representation is highly recommended for several reasons.
Before I get to those reasons, though, let me give a little bit of background information on the Berks County DUI ARD Program. Driving under the influence, otherwise referred to as DUI, is probably the most common criminal offense in Berks County. Additionally, a DUI case knows no social or economic bounds. People from all walks of life, who simply had a little too much to drink one evening, routinely get arrested and charged with driving under the influence. As a result, the Pennsylvania Legislature created a special program, to be implemented in the court system, to deal specifically with certain types of first offense DUI cases.
This special program is called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, known as ARD. The ARD Program allows an eligible defendant to avoid any mandatory jail time associated with his case. Furthermore, the ARD Program reduces the amount of license suspension that a defendant is facing. Another great benefit of the ARD Program is that an eligible defendant who successfuly completes the program will have no record of a conviction. All in all, the ARD Program results in a very good outcome for a defendant in a first offense DUI case.
Why, though, do you need a lawyer for this program?
First, if you are going through the ARD DUI Program, it is highly unlikely that you have any prior involvement with the criminal justice system. You are probably scared, nervous, and have no idea of what’s in store. You will have to appear before at least two (2) different Judges, deal with at least two (2) different assistant district attarneys, and fill out a significant amount of paperwork. If you retain an attarney, you will have someone with you every step of the way to answer your questions and make sure the process is moving along as planned. If you are going through the process alone, you will, in fact, be alone. For the most part, the Judges and and the assistant district attarneys will not be able to help you or answer your questions. They have distinct and specialized roles in the criminal justice system, and those roles do not include representing and advising defendants.
Second, not every first offense DUI should automatically be considered for the ARD Program. There are numerous ways to fight a DUI case, such as having a preliminary hearing, filing an Omnibus Pre-Trial Motion, and taking the case to trial. As I said, the ARD Program is a good outcome for a defendant. An outright dismissal of the case, however, is even better. In my career, I have had cases that were eligible for the ARD Program dismissed by contesting the charges. If any of those clients were representing themselves, there is no way that such an outcome could have been achieved.
Third, a lawyer can help you with strategic decisions about certain aspects of the ARD Program. Defendants in a DUI / ARD case typically will lose their driver’s license for a period of 30 days or 60 days, depending on the blood alcohol content (BAC) reading. Although the length of the license suspension is set by statute, there is some flexibility in precisely when that license suspension will commence. I have represented both adults with full-time jobs and college students who sought to accelerate or delay the start of their license suspension. Although it is never a good time to suffer a license suspension, I was able to “lessen the blow”, so to speak, in these cases.
As I said at the beginning, there is no definitive need to have a lawyer for a first offense DUI / ARD in Berks County. The overwhelming majority of defendants, however, do end up retaining the services of an attarney. If you are facing a first offense driving under the influence (DUI) case in Reading or Berks County, Pennsylvania, and are considering the ARD Program, please contact my office to set up a free consultation.