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Dismissing Drug Related Charges


Similar to the ARD program for certain first-offense DUI charges, Section 17 probation of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act allows for eligible first-time offenders of nonviolent drug possession crimes in Pennsylvania to undergo a period of probation to have their charges lawfully dismissed. Section 17 probation is a diversionary program which affords those accused of a drug related crime the ability to avoid a permanent conviction on their record. Upon completion of the program, the drug related crime is permanently dismissed. Section 17 probation is also known as the Probation without Verdict Program.


The name, Section 17, comes from the statute which authorizes its use in the Pennsylvania Drug Act.  Under this law, each county in Pennsylvania is allowed to conduct its own Section 17 program. Some counties are more restrictive than others when it comes to allowing defendants into the program.


Am I Eligible for Section 17 Probation?


This is a question I am often asked. In Pennsylvania, Section 17 probation is often an option for defendants charged with lower-level drug possession charges. Many times, this program is sought after because it allows someone the opportunity to achieve a clean record and have the drug charges expunged from their criminal history. Those charged with more severe drug related crimes, such as Possession with Intent to Distribute, (“PWID”), are not eligible for Section 17 probation; however, those charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance often are eligible for the program. While you may be eligible, this type of deal is not just handed to you by the District Attorney. You will need to be represented by an experienced attorney who can demonstrate that you are an eligible candidate for the program.


Drug Possession Attorney in Pennsylvania


The conditions of Section 17 Probation are negotiable and will differ from case to case depending on the facts. In a drug related matter, your liberty and ability to provide for your family is often at stake. Because of this, it is important to hire an attorney who understands the program and has the experience to negotiate a positive result in your case.  As an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, I am qualified to evaluate your case, assess the facts, and explain your rights and options.


Expungement of Drug Offenses in Pennsylvania


Once you have completed the Section 17 probation, your attorney will then petition the Court to have your charges expunge.  A court order must then be obtained stating that all criminal records related to the offense (fingerprints, criminal docket, photographs, police report, etc.) should be destroyed. It is important to have this process completed by an experienced attorney who will guide you and ensure that all appropriate agencies destroy any records related to the charge. This process may take a few months to fully complete but it affords you the opportunity to have the charges erased completely.


Section 17 of the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act:


Section 17. Probation Without Verdict.-Except as provided in clause (1) of this subsection, the court may place a person on probation without verdict if the person pleads nolo contendere or guilty to any nonviolent offense under this act and the person proves he is drug dependent. For the purposes of proving drug dependency, the person must present the testimony of a physician or psychologist trained in the field of drug abuse. The term of probation shall be for a specific time period not to exceed the maximum for the offense upon such reasonable terms and conditions as the court may require. The following shall apply:


(1) The following persons shall be ineligible for probation without verdict:

(i)           Any person who has previously been convicted of an offense under this act or similar act of the United States or any other state.

(ii)          Any person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in this Commonwealth or an equivalent crime under the laws of any other state.

(iii)         Any person who has been placed on Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition where the person was charged with a violation of this act or the commission of a misdemeanor or felony in this Commonwealth.

(iv)         Any person who is charged with or has pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to multiple offenses which are based on separate conduct or arise from separate criminal episodes such that those offenses could be tried separately in accordance with 18 Pa.C.S. § 110 (relating to when prosecution barred by former prosecution for different offense).

(v)          Any person who is a dangerous juvenile offender under 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302 (relating to definitions) or who was adjudicated delinquent for conduct which would constitute a violation of clause (30) or (37) of subsection (a) of section 13

of this act.

(vi)         Any person who is charged with violating clause (14), (30) or (37) of subsection (a) of section 13 of this act.

(2) Upon violation of a term or condition of probation, the court may enter a judgment and proceed as in any criminal case, or may continue the probation without verdict.

(3) Upon fulfillment of the terms and conditions of probation, the court shall discharge such person and dismiss the proceedings against him. Discharge and dismissal shall be without adjudication of guilt and shall not constitute a conviction for any purpose whatever, including the penalties imposed for second or subsequent convictions:

Provided, that probation without verdict shall be available to any person only once: And further provided, that notwithstanding any other provision of this act, the prosecuting attorney or the court, and the council shall keep a list of those persons placed on probation without verdict, which list may only be used to determine the eligibility of persons for probation without verdict and the names on such lists may be used for no other purpose whatsoever. (17 amended Dec. 28, 1994, P.L.1406, No.164)



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