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.
A recent Dauphin County case has brought attention to who decides whether a person charged with a criminal offense is permitted to participate in a pretrial diversionary or first-time offender program known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, commonly called "ARD." With the ARD program, a person pleads not guilty to the criminal charges, but the person willingly accepts a punishment from the court in the form of supervision by the probation department, payment of court costs and fees, community service, and completion of counseling. Upon completion of the ARD requirements and compliance with its conditions, the person successfully completes the ARD program and is normally able to have the charges dismissed and then expunged from the criminal records maintained by the government.