Superior Court of Pennsylvania Overrules Commonwealth v. Chichkin

A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court decision overruled the prior precedent of Commonwealth v. Chichkin regarding DUI sentencing. This ruling will change the meaning of a prior ARD acceptance as it relates to DUI sentencing, impacting future DUI cases greatly.

The Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program provides first-time offenders with the possibility of having their charges dismissed and expunged upon completion of the program. When a defendant participates in ARD, they are not pleading guilty to the criminal charges but agreeing to accept alternate supervision from the court. The idea is to find good candidates for rehabilitation and treatment in order to speed up the process rather than have the case go through the criminal justice system and unnecessarily spend state resources. The details and precise requirements of the program vary for each individual but typically includes a period of supervision by the probation department, completion of counseling classes and programs, payment of program costs and fees, and community service. Failure to comply with the requirements of ARD is likely to result in the original charge resuming and the individual being prosecuted by the Commonwealth.

Under 75 Pa. C.S. § 3806, ARD acceptance in a DUI case counts as a prior offense for mandatory minimum sentencing purposes. However, the court in Commonwealth v. Chichkin ruled that the particular provision of 75 Pa. C.S. § 3806(a) offends the Due Process Clause and therefore is unconstitutional. In Chichkin, the defendant was arrested for DUI in 2017 and sentenced to a term of 30 days to six months imprisonment, with two months’ consecutive probation. The 30-day mandatory minimum had been imposed because the defendant had accepted ARD for a prior DUI offense in 2013. Nonetheless, the court vacated the sentencing for the defendant’s second offense after his ARD participation, stating that the defendant’s rights were violated when the trial court increased his sentence based solely upon his prior acceptances of ARD absent proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the prior offense. Following Chichkin, it has always been recognized that prior acceptance of ARD would not count as a prior offense for sentencing purposes in DUI cases.

However, this long-standing precedent has now been overruled in the recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Commonwealth v. Moroz. In Moroz, the defendant was arrested for two separate DUIs, one in July 2019 and another in August 2019, and had entered the ARD program for his first DUI. During his sentencing hearing, the trial court relied on Chichkin in sentencing the defendant as a first-time offender, however, the Commonwealth filed an appeal to that sentence. On appeal, the court threw out the defendant’s initial sentence and found in favor of the Commonwealth, expressly overruling its previous decision in Chichkin. The court in Commonwealth v. Moroz acknowledged that acceptance of ARD does not contain the same procedural safeguards of a conviction following a trial, however it deemed the safeguards of ARD sufficient due to the intensive process of the ARD program. Due to this ruling, anyone who completes the ARD program will have a first offense going forward, meaning they’ll face steeper penalties for subsequent offenses.

If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI, the criminal defense team at Musi, Merkins, Daubenberger & Clark, is ready and able to provide you with the best possible representation and support in the areas of criminal law. Give our office a call at 610-891-8806 to schedule an appointment.