WEST CHESTER — A state appeals court has upheld the decision of a Common Pleas Court judge ordering that an Allentown man be allowed to participate in the Chester County District Attorney’s diversionary sentencing program for first time DUI offenders, countermanding that office’s handling of his case.
The rare ruling directing that Tyler Christian Slatoff be granted entry into the county’s ARD program after the D.A. had rejected the application was made a year ago by Judge Jeffrey E. Sommer, at the request of the man’s attorney.
The decision was appealed by the District Attorney’s office, and on June 11, a state Superior Court panel ruled 2-1 that Sommer had acted appropriately in ordering the ARD admission.
The appellate decision was written by Judge Paula Francisco Ott, the former Chester County Common Pleas president judge — and someone, as such, well aware of the county’s ARD program.
Calling Sommer’s June 2018 ruling “based on sound reasoning,” Ott agreed that the District Attorney’s Office denial of defendant Slatoff’s admission into the ARD program, unless he also met the condition of participating in the county’s Drug Court program, was an abuse of discretion by the prosecution.
Sommer found that if Slatoff had entered drug court as the District Attorney required for his ARD acceptance, he would have been forced to undergo a 24-hour-long drug detoxication program. But Slatoff, then 20, suffers from a multitude of physical and psychological disabilities that require him to take a variety of prescription medications. A doctor told the judge during a hearing that if Slatoff went off those drugs, there would almost certainly be bad consequences.
Sommer, wrote Ott, “correctly held that the commonwealth aptly decided Slatoff was a suitable candidate for ARD, but that the Drug Court condition was likely to cause mental and/or physical harm, perhaps serious and permanent harm, to Slatoff, and therefore, was not rationally related to advancing the goals of ARD.”
The District Attorney’s office has signaled its intention of appealing the Superior Court’s ruling, which was split between Ott and Judge Alice B. Dubow upholding Sommer, and Senior Judge Eugene B. Strassburger III, who voted to overturn the decision.
ARD, short for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, is the county’s program for first-time drunk driving offenders and some other defendants accused of non-violent crimes. Those who are accepted into the program can erase their criminal record if they successfully complete the terms of their admission.
Those conditions can include enrolling in safe driving school, suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license for a certain period of time, drug or alcohol abuse evaluation, and even letters of apology to crime victims. Participation in the program, which ams to rehabilitate defendants without prison time, is a privilege, not a right, Sommer noted.
Slatoff was arrested by East Coventry police on April 27, 2017, when he as spotted driving erratically. A resident of Lehigh County, Slatoff at the time was a student at West Chester University. A blood test his alcohol level below the legal limit of .08 percent, but because he was underage he was automatically deemed impaired. He also had marijuana in his system, and traces of Xanax.
He applied for the ARD program in 2017 and was accepted, on the condition that he undergo the county’s Drug Court program, which is a high-intensity course of supervision for non-violent drug abusers.
But the professional who evaluated Slatoff for the district attorney, social worker Kate Neidler, mandated that he undergo a detox regimen for 24-hours as part of his entry into Drug Court. He declined to do so on the advice of his longtime physician, Dr. Jon E. Brndjar of Allentown, according to court records.
Brndjar told Sommer in a hearing in April 2018 that Slatoff suffers from a multitude of conditions both mental and physical. He has anxiety and panic attacks, headaches, depression, memory loss, and flashbacks. He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and post concussive disorder, having suffered 15 diagnosed concussions.
In her evaluation of Slatoff, Neidler did not consult with his physicians or do any independent medical review of his history, Sommer said in his opinion. Yet when Brndjar was asked, he said that if Neidler’s recommendation for a prescription drug detox was followed, this disruption it would cause to his condition would be a “grave mistake.
All things being equal, Sommer ruled, Slatoff was an acceptable candidate for ARD, with the Drug Court condition set to negatively affect him. “There is no rational relationship between the Commonwealth’s decision to require participation in Drug Court and (Slatoff’s) likelihood of rehabilitation,” he wrote. Failure to consider the adverse affects Slatoff would suffer was, the judge said, “an abuse of discretion.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.