After being a criminal defense attorney in State College for almost 11 years, I have seen Pennsylvania judges impose sentences on thousands of people, and those sentences generally include a period of jail time, probation, community service, payment of costs and fines, and completion of counseling. The sentences are relatively uniform, and in many cases, the sentences are "cookie cuttered," meaning the person being sentenced receives the same sentence as the last person and individual consideration is not given. For example, almost all drunk driving offenders are sentenced to the severe mandatory minimum sentences, and no consideration is given to whether or not the person completed an alcohol counseling program or sought treatment for alcohol addiction.
An Ohio judge has taken more of an individualistic approach and has decided to impose very unique sentences that fit the particular case. For example, an 18-year-old woman that failed to pay a cab fare of approximately $100.00 after taking a 30 mile trip was charged with theft, and she was given the option to either spend 60 days in jail or to walk 30 miles over the next 2 days. Obviously, it seems like an easy choice as almost everyone wants to avoid jail time. However, the young girl probably would learn much more by walking the 30 miles than she would by spending time in jail or by just being on probation. Aside from the 30 mile walk, the woman was also required to pay restitution to the taxi driver, and she would be on probation for 4 months. For a person that sped through a school zone, the sentence required the man to work a shift as a crossing guard. A man that passed a school bus illegally was ordered to ride a school bus for a day. The judge has stated that his goal is to reduce recidivism, meaning reduce the re-offense rate.
Pennsylvania First Time Offender Programs
In all my years of being a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, I have not seen such creative and individualized sentences. Some of the district judges in State College do review cases on an individualized basis and do not "cookie cutter" resolutions, and I truly appreciate the time and effort that they extend to a client is administering justice. District judges primarily deal with relatively minor summary offenses like Underage Drinking, Public Drunkenness, Possession of a Fake ID Card, and Disorderly Conduct. For alcohol-related charges, judges will often require offenders to complete alcohol education programs or counseling. For offenses that harm the community in general, offenders are often required to complete hours of community service in order to obtain a dismissal of the charge.
Misdemeanor charges, such as Driving Under the Influence, Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Furnishing Alcohol to Minors, are handled at the county court level in Pennsylvania. Many first-time offenders with such charges participate in a pretrial diversionary program called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). Eligibility for the ARD is determined by the prosecutor, not the judge, in the case. Successful completion of the ARD program allows the participant to have the charges dismissed and then expunged from the criminal records.
Dismissed Charges Remain on Pennsylvania Records
Many people do not realize that a dismissed charge actually remains on the person's record. The only way to have a dismissed or withdrawn charge removed from the records is by filing an expungement petition with a higher level court. Regrettably, the people often find out that the dismissed charge is still on the government's records when the charge appears on a criminal background search as the person is trying to obtain a new job or find a new apartment. Sadly, some attorneys do not take the extra step for clients and file the required expungement petitions. Any person charged with a criminal offense should hire an experienced defense attorney to obtain the best possible resolution and minimize the long term impact.