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April 21, 2011

To Expunge or Not to Expunge?: The Failure of Pennsylvania Courts to Expunge Your DUI ARD Arrest Record


Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 320 is entitled Expungement Upon Successful Completion of ARD Program. This rule is applicable when you successfully complete the ARD program whether it be for a DUI or other charge(s). Rule 320 states "when the judge orders the dismissal of the charges against the defendant, the judge shall also order the expungement of the defendant's arrest record...." This means that your criminal record should be automatically expunged when you complete the ARD program. You shouldn't be forced to pay an attorney to file an expungement petition on your behalf, you shouldn't be forced to pay court costs for filing fees and certified copies, and you shouldn't be forced to wait months before your record is clean. The reality is that you will be forced to do all of the above. Most counties do not follow Rule 320. Your ARD record will NOT be expunged when you successfully complete the ARD program in the counties that I practice law. You will still have a criminal record when you are done the ARD program. When an employer or other government agency performs a background check, the background check will list your charges with the notation "ARD" next to them. Even though ARD is technically not a criminal conviction, this may still have negative consequences for you and your job search. If you want a clean record you will need to hire an attorney to file an expungement petition. You will have to wait months for the process to be completed. The judge must sign off on your petition and order your record expunged. To complicate matters further, the expungement rules have recently changed. You must attach a Pennsylvania state background check to your expungement petition. You must order this background check from the Pennsylvania State Police. This will take an additional 4 weeks.

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October 18, 2010

Horizontal Judicial System in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Results in Backlog of Cases


There has been a lot of talk in the media regarding the inability of the Philadelphia court system to handle its caseload. After appearing in the Philadelphia court system for several criminal cases it is apparent to me why the system is failing. The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas uses a horizontal model in hearing criminal cases. In the horizontal system the case is assigned to a different judge for each step in the criminal process. For example, the case will initially be given a status date with an initial judge. At this date the Assistant District Attorney will give the defense attorney discovery and a plea offer. The defense attorney and the defendant will then decide to take the plea bargain or proceed to trial. Typically, in serious cases that proceed to trial, the defense attorney will file a pre-trial motion. Once the defense attorney files this motion the case will then be kicked out to another judge to hear the pre-trial motion. Once this motion is heard the case will be kicked back to the status judge to schedule for trial date. If the defense attorney has any motions in limine or other pre-trial motions it will be kicked out to another judge before trial. Once the other pre-trial motions are heard it will again be kicked back to a status judge, which could be an entirely different judge. Then, the case will be kicked out to another judge for a jury trial.

Do you see the problem with this system? Do you see the inefficiency? There are way too many status dates that are a waste of time. Additionally, it compounds the problem when the Assistant District Attorney and defense attorney have to explain the case all over again to a different judge each time. This also increases the possibility of the judges making mistakes when they have to address a case they are not familiar with. I have made 6 or 7 trips to Philly on one particular case that should have taken 2-3 trips to the courthouse max.

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