In this case Kyle was the victim of today’s new world of “zero tolerance.” A multitude of court policies and law enforcement policies almost saddled him with a criminal record.
Kyle, an 18 year old student of Easton Area Highschool and Career Institute of Technology studied in the shop at CIT. However, CIT often had a shortage of cutting utensils. Some CIT students used knives of their own rather than those supplied by the school. Students were, of course, not allowed to have these knifes at their home schools.
Kyle had mistakenly forgot to take his knife out of his pocket one morning before entering EASD. The knife fell out in view of a faculty member. The incident was reported to the police who then pressed charges.
As a first time offender, Kyle should have been permitted to enter into the ARD program but the District Attorney’s Office had a policy not to allow defendant’s with weapons charges into the program. Additionally, The Court of Common Pleas did not, at the time, afford defendants the ability to be heard in court. Rather, the Court delegated the decision making responsibility to the probation department.
The Path to ARD
The challenges in this case were two fold. First we had to convince the District Attorney at the time, John Morganelli, to reconsider Kyle for ARD and make a possible exception to his policy. Even if the District Attorney considered Kyle for ARD we would have to have an individualized court hearing, and that was something that had never happened in Northampton County.
We knew from the start that we had a significant chance of winning the case at a trial. However, any time a criminal case goes to trial there is a chance of losing. ARD was a no-brainer, if we could get it. ARD would promise not criminal record and alleviate any risk inherent in a trial.
We would first have to convince the District Attorney to recommend Kyle for the ARD program. This would require the District Attorney to make an exception to their policy. We would then have to have to actually have to case put in front of the Court and have the Court conduct a individualized hearing. But there had never been an individualized ARD hearing in any other Northampton County criminal matter.
But, perhaps this was a rare occasion were we could actually turn the District Attorney into an ally.
Kyle was an exemplary student despite this one mistake. This made convincing the District Attorney to allow him into the ARD program easier. The Court, however, processes hundreds of ARD applications per month. Opening the door to individual hearings in each and every one of those cases was not something the Court was inclined to agree to. Kyle did, however, have a right to a hearing before being denied ARD by the Court. It did not matter that no such hearing had ever previously occurred in Northampton County.
The District Attorney’s Office, however, had long thought that they should be the sole arbiter of who is allowed into the ARD program and came to see Kyle’s case an opportunity to prove their point. They were incorrect but we were happy to allow them to prove their point in this particular case.
Now that the District Attorney’s Office and the Court of Common Pleas had decided that they would declare war upon each other over this issue, we needed only to sit back and watch.
The Court initially refused to grant individualized hearings and the District Attorney’s Office refused to plea or withdraw any cases which they recommended ARD on but the Court denied. All ARD denials would essentially be forced to trial, taking valuable time away from the Court.
Meanwhile we prepared for trial.
As more and more cases were listed for trial, the Court eventually agreed to grant Kyle a hearing. We would like to think that Kyle’s exemplary school record and community service along with our persuasive arguments at that particular hearing won the day, but we have our doubts.
Kyle was admitted into ARD after the first individualized ARD hearing ever held in Northampton County. Kyle continues to have no criminal records. Northampton County now recognizes that individuals whom have been offered ARD by the District Attorney are entitled to a hearing and that they cannot be denied ARD with a hearing.