An en banc Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Moroz, holding that proof of a prior acceptance of ARD counts as a prior offense for sentencing purposes in DUI cases. Notably, this decision overrules the recent panel decision in Commonwealth v. Chichkin which held that prior acceptance of ARD did not count for recidivist purposes.
Commonwealth v. Moroz – Does ARD Count As a Prior Offense in a DUI Case?
Police arrested the defendant for two DUIs on two separate dates. The defendant then entered the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program for his first DUI. The court deferred the defendant’s sentencing on other charges from his second arrest. Before sentencing could occur, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued its opinion on Chichkin, holding that a DUI offense where ARD was accepted could not be used to impose an increased sentence for subsequent DUI offenses.
During trial, the defendant objected to being sentenced as a recidivist based on his prior ARD offense, citing Chichkin. The Commonwealth argued that if it could prove the first DUI offense beyond a reasonable doubt in an evidentiary hearing at sentencing, then it could establish the second DUI was a second offense even though the defendant had received ARD. The Commonwealth then requested an evidentiary hearing to address whether it could prove the first DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. This request was denied. The trial court held the defendant’s sentencing hearing , and the trial court relied on Chichkin in sentencing the defendant as a first-time offender.
The Commonwealth filed a timely appeal, raising the issues of whether the defendant’s prior acceptance of ARD for his first DUI qualified as a prior offense and whether Chichkin should be overruled.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s Decision
The Superior Court reviewed relevant case law to make its decision, as well as the DUI gradation statute, Section 3806. Section 3806 specifically mentions that acceptance of ARD constitutes a prior offense. Additionally, other cases such as Commonwealth v. Whalen and Commonwealth v. Scheinert demonstrate that a defendant must voluntarily agree to ARD, indicate he understands the proceedings, and agree to comply with any conditions imposed by the court. The defendant is also presumed to be aware of Section 3806 when accepting ARD. The Superior Court acknowledged that acceptance of ARD does not contain the same procedural safeguards of a conviction following a trial, but it deemed the safeguards of ARD sufficient due to the “intensive process” of the ARD program. Additionally, Whalen states that ARD can be equated with a conviction only under certain circumstances, such as sentencing on subsequent convictions.
Therefore, the Superior Court overruled Chichkin, vacating the defendant’s judgement of sentence, and remanding for further proceedings. The defendant will now face a significantly increased mandatory minimum when he is sentenced as a second-time offender barring further appeals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has accepted review of this issue, so this will not be the final word on whether ARD counts as a prior offense in DUI cases.