Philadelphia Municipal Court has a number of diversionary programs available to people charged with certain non-violent misdemeanors such as buying or possessing drugs. One such program is the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program, commonly known as AMP.
AMP is divided into two tiers, AMP 1 and AMP 2. AMP 1 offers participants an opportunity to have their case dismissed if they complete community service and pay a fine (slightly over $200) within a certain period of time. A big advantage of AMP 1 is that the defendant is not required to enter a guilty plea – the case is kept active for status hearings, but the defendant is not required to plead guilty. Once the program is complete, the prosecution is withdrawn and the participant can have the charge expunged. With certain exceptions, AMP 1 is only offered to people with no criminal record or a very limited record.
AMP 2 may be an option for someone who has a criminal record limited to non-violent offenses. The program may also be offered to someone who has a substance abuse problem. AMP 2 requires a plea of guilty or no contest, and participants are required to pay a fine and complete community service or substance abuse treatment. The primary benefit of AMP 2 is that successful participants do not have to serve a term of reporting probation – once the AMP 2 requirements are satisfied, the matter is marked complete and no additional reporting is required. Depending on the person’s criminal history, certain AMP 2 cases are eligible for expungement.
AMP cases are not heard in the Criminal Justice Center. Instead, they are handled in courtrooms in certain local police stations, such as the 8th District at Academy and Red Lion; 18th District at 55th and Pine; 24th District at 3901 Whitaker Ave.; and the 35th District at Broad and Champlost.
Who is eligible for AMP? The District Attorney’s Office makes the initial decision. However, as with any diversionary program, certain eligible defendants will slip through the cracks. If you believe you should be eligible but you have not been offered admission to AMP 1 or AMP 2, ask an experienced lawyer if there is a way to gain admission.
What if you violate the terms of AMP? That depends on the nature of the violation. If it’s simply a matter of more time to complete community service or drug and alcohol treatment, participants will often get an extension. But if a participant is arrested on a new charge, the D.A. will almost always try to remove him or her from AMP. If no plea has been entered, the case goes back on the regular trial list. If the person has already pleaded guilty or no contest, he or she may face sentencing on the underlying charge.
Is AMP right for you? For someone with little or no criminal history, AMP 1 can be a great option – it’s a way to have the case dismissed and expunged from your record without going to trial. For a person with a drug or alcohol problem, AMP 2 can provide substance abuse treatment while possibly avoiding a guilty plea (depending on the circumstances).
On the other hand, you should not accept AMP if you want to fight the charges. As in any other case, there may be strong options available to the defense, such as a suppression motion and the opportunity to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Anyone charged with a misdemeanor offense in Philadelphia should discuss these options with an experienced defense attorney before making a decision.
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William R. McLaughlin, Esq.