Frequently Asked Questions About Drug Defense
1. What should I do if I've been charged with a drug offense?
The first thing you should do is immediately understand the seriousness of the offenses with which you have been charged. Depending on the gravity of the charged offenses and if you are convicted, you might be facing penalties ranging from driver’s license suspension to fines to serious jail time.
The next thing you should do is consult with an experienced Allentown drug defense attorney. Although there are several drug lawyers in the Lehigh Valley, we believe, based on over a decade worth of experience, that we can provide you exceptional legal representation at reasonable rates. Your attorney will review the facts of your case with, explain the legal process to you, and outline the potential outcomes of your case.
2. After the arrest, what is the next legal procedure I will face?
Your drug defense lawyer might want to challenge bail if it is excessive. If so, it can be done either at the Magisterial District Judge or in the Court of Common Pleas. If your lawyer challenges bail in the Court of Common Pleas, it will be done by filing a petition. There will usually be a hearing set by the judge to hear arguments regarding the merits of the petition. The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas is located at 455 West Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18101.
If you do not challenge the amount of bail that has been set, the next proceeding following an arrest is a preliminary hearing which is held before a Magisterial District Judge.
Here's the deal:
The preliminary hearing is conducted to determine whether the prosecution (the district attorney) has enough evidence to make out the elements of the crimes that you have been charged with. The burden that the prosecution has is sometimes called a prima facie case. Because of the relatively light burden, the prosecution is often successful at the preliminary hearing. However, it is important that your attorney put the prosecution to the test of making out the prima facie case.
The preliminary hearing is also important because it is the first time that you and your lawyer have to see some of the evidence that the prosecution has against you, and to hear from some of their witnesses and to cross-examine those witnesses. This “discovery” allows your lawyer to prepare your defense.
If the Magistrate District Judge finds that the prosecution has successfully established a prima facie case at the preliminary hearing, your case will be “bound over” to be processed in the Court of Common Pleas.
3. What happens to my case after it goes to the Court of Common Pleas for processing?
The next formal step is that your attorney will receive notice of an arraignment. The arraignment is held between 30 and 60 days following the preliminary hearing. The purpose of the arraignment is to formally notify you and your lawyer of the charges against you, and for your lawyer to enter a plea.
In Lehigh County, if the case is not resolved by plea or ARD (or Section 17 under the Drug Act), it will be relisted for a status conference when all pretrial motions will be heard. These pretrial motions may include discovery motions, motions to suppress evidence, or other motions contained in an “Omnibus Pretrial Motion.” Once all pretrial motions are heard, you will be given a trial date, which is usually 30 days after the status conference.
4. What is ARD and how do I qualify?
Accelerate Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, is a pretrial diversionary program which a defendant charged with a drug offense may qualify. The purpose of ARD from the government’s perspective is rehabilitation of the offender and a prompt disposition of the charges.
Following your arraignment, the District Attorney will determine if you qualify for ARD. The rules applicable to ARD indicate that ordinarily the defendants that are eligible for ARD are first offenders who lend themselves to treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment, and that the crime charged is relatively minor and does not involve a serious breach of the public trust.
The ARD program is intended to encourage offenders to make a fresh start after participation in a rehabilitative program and offers them the possibility of a clean record if they successfully complete the program. A skilled drug defense lawyer will be able to help you seek this out.
Here's the deal:
Acceptance into the ARD program is not automatic, regardless of the circumstances. It requires that the district attorney, usually at the request of the lawyer for the drug offender, make a motion to the judge that the case be considered for ARD. A hearing is then held in open court where the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, and the district attorney will attend.
If the offender is accepted into the ARD program, and he or she satisfactorily completes the program, the charges can be dismissed and the arrest record expunged. Conditions of the ARD program may include completing substance abuse treatment and community service. Costs of the ARD program will also be assessed on the offender.
That's not all...
You should also note that there is another pre-trial diversionary program that is potentially available in some counties under Section 17 of the Drug Act. To qualify, however, you must be drug dependent, a first-time offender, and charged with a non-violent drug offense. If you qualify for Section 17, you would file a petition for Section 17 disposition and, if the judge agrees that you qualify, you and your lawyer would enter a no contest plea before the judge. The judge would then place you on probation without a verdict.
If you complete the period of probation without violation, the charges against you will be dismissed. The charges should then be automatically expunged. However, if you violate your probation, you may be found guilty and sentenced to jail, probation and/or a fine, and you will have a criminal record. You are entitled to Section 17 probation without verdict only once.
5. What are the benefits to the ARD or Section 17 programs?
There are generally three significant benefits to a drug offender who is admitted into the ARD or Section 17 programs:
- The offender will not go to jail.
- The offender will not have his or her driving privileges suspended.
- The case will be dismissed and the record of the case may be expunged.
Though an attorney can file for expungement of the ARD case, Lehigh County has the instructions and form for the motion on its website.
6. If I do not enter an ARD or Section 17 program, what happens next?
In Lehigh County, the District Attorney negotiates with your drug defense attorney for a potential plea to the charges against you. These negotiations will begin at the arraignment and continue up to the date of your trial. If you and your attorney do not agree to the terms of the plea offer, the court will hold a trial.
7. What happens if the police conducted an illegal arrest, an improper search and seizure, an involuntary confession, or performed some other violation of my constitutional rights?
If you and your attorney believe that the police violated your constitutional rights, you may file a motion to suppress evidence, which, if granted by the court, will result in the prosecution not being able to use the improperly obtained evidence in its case against you.
8. What happens at my trial?
On the date of your trial, you will be given the opportunity of having either a jury trial (that is a trial with an attorney before usually 12 members of the community), a non-jury trial (that is, having a trial with an attorney before a judge only), or you and your lawyer can decide to plead guilty.
9. What happens if I am found guilty or plead guilty?
If there is a negotiated plea agreement between you and the District Attorney, and the judge accepts the terms of the plea agreement, the agreed upon sentence will be entered. If there is no agreement as to the sentence, the court may order a presentence report from the Department of Probation which will comment on the various factors that will bear on your possible sentence. The court will then sentence you.
The sentence, depending on the circumstances, can include:
- Jail time
- In-home detention
- Community service
- Drug dependency treatment
In addition, the offender will have his or her driving privileges suspended for any possession charge (for a discussion of the potential license suspension if convicted of a drug offense, see our Pennsylvania attorney drug crime page).
10. Do I need a lawyer?
Yes! You definitely need a drug crimes lawyer. A drug charge is serious and, if not handled properly, it may follow you the rest of your life. The law is complex, and the court procedures can be difficult to understand without an experienced attorney at your side.
The lawyer you hire should have significant experience in representing people charged with drug offenses locally in Lehigh County and Allentown. This lawyer should be able to evaluate your case, explain the court procedures, and advise what his or her fee is for representing you, all in language that you understand. The lawyer’s fee arrangement should be in writing and you should receive a copy of it. And that lawyer should be from Regan Law Firm.
You can get in touch with us for immediate help - call (484) 498-6334 now to schedule a free case evaluation.