Lancaster County’s New DUI Central Court Changes Everything!

October 7, 2015, was the first Wednesday of Lancaster County’s new DUI Central Court.  This Court changes many things about DUI charges, the ARD program (for first-time DUI offenders), the preliminary hearing process, and the bail-setting process.

A DUI charge starts, of course, at the time of the stop by the police.  After some preliminary field tests, a citizen is usually arrested for DUI and taken for breath or blood tests.  After that, the citizen is released and is waiting for the official criminal charges to come in the mail – this is the criminal complaint that gives notice of the charges and sets the first court date.  This is where our overview begins about how it was, and how it is.

Formerly, DUI charges would require someone to appear in the District Magistrate’s office located in the jurisdiction of where they were stopped.  Lancaster County has 17 different jurisdictions.  Now, everyone reports to 50 N. Duke Street on the 3rd floor, outside Courtroom A.

The process is meant to launch the ARD process, which consists of completing the following within 6 months:

  • a CRN evaluation
  • Alcohol Highway Safety Classes
  • a Drug and Alcohol Assessment, and any counseling recommended
  • payment of a $600 fee
  • completion of 30 – 80 community service hours

Formerly, a citizen would waive the preliminary hearing, and then apply for ARD within 30 days.  Now, the ARD application is submitted the day before the preliminary hearing is waived.

At the centralized DUI Court, ARD candidates waive their preliminary hearing and then are scheduled for the CRN evaluation right away – a great improvement.

First-time offenders who are not eligible for ARD may plead guilty immediately – 6 months sooner than the old system.  Citizens who plead will be given house arrest instead of jail time:

  • the lowest tier- under .10- 6 months probation
  • middle tier- under .159- two weeks house arrest instead of 48 hours in jail
  • the highest tier- over .16- four weeks house arrest instead of 72 hours in jail

For second or third-time offenders, there is a different scenario.  Citizens who have received two or more DUIs within ten years are considered a high risk for re-offending.  That means, in addition to determining whether to have a preliminary hearing or not, bail is going to be set.  While the bail will probably be unsecured, a SCRAM monitor will be attached to the citizen’s leg immediately, with a requirement that there be no alcohol consumption, or jail will result.

All of this takes place on the 3rd floor of the courthouse in the hall outside Courtroom A.  Each of the conference rooms houses a different piece of the process.  The rooms contain:

  • two District Judges, and one or two highly trained staff people
  • Impaired Driver Probation Officers
  • Tracy Barley – ARD coordinator for the District Attorney’s office
  • Assistant District Attorney
  • Bail Administration

The process can be confusing because there are a lot of moving parts, and dozens or hundreds of people milling about within a three-hour period.

Stay tuned for additional changes and updates – this is a brand new system – still under development!

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