What is Veteran’s Court?
Veteran’s Court is a collaborative, problem-solving court designed to offer treatment intervention rather than incarceration to defendants charged with misdemeanors or felonies, who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and are experiencing treatable behavioral, psychological or substance abuse problems. The program is a minimum of 18 months long and involves ongoing judicial supervision and intensive probation supervision with input from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals led by a judge.
What Does Veteran’s Court do?
The main goal of Veteran’s Court is to introduce participants to an ongoing process of recovery designed to help them become healthy, mentally, and physically stable, substance abuse free, employed or in school and reaching their personal goals. Veteran’s Court also protects the public and reduces recidivism.
Who is Eligible for Veteran’s Court?
Under CA Penal Code 1170.9, veterans of the United States military who have committed a criminal offense as a result of sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems stemming from service in the United States military may apply for enrollment in Veterans Court. If a veteran makes such application the court shall, prior to sentencing, make a determination as to whether the defendant was, or currently is, a member of the United States military and whether the defendant may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems as a result of that service. The court may request, through existing resources, an assessment to aid in that determination.
What Happens Upon Successful Completion of Veteran’s Court?
Upon successful completion of the program, the Court may dismiss the charges to which the participant previously pled guilty. Under CA Penal Code 1170.9. (D) A dismissal pursuant to this subdivision may, in the discretion of the court, order the sealing of police records of the arrest and court records of the dismissed action, thereafter viewable by the public only in accordance with a court order.
Veteran’s Court During COVID-19
One of the most significant aspects of Veteran’s Court is the communication required between the veteran and the court. Each day twenty-two veterans take their own life. Prior to making that fateful decision most veterans spend days, months, weeks, months, and years self-isolated with their feelings of guilt, shame, grief, and confusion. Self-isolation while in Veteran’s Court, however, is almost impossible. Veterans are required to communicate with their probation officer, mental health professionals, staff at Veteran’s Affairs and the court. In addition to limiting a veteran’s self-isolation, where bad things could happen, the communication shows the veteran that there are many people that genuinely care about their wellbeing. It also provides the veteran with some structure similar to what he or she had while in the military and gives them a mission or sense of purpose to work towards a goal and recover.
Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, self-isolation has been prescribed by health officials and communicating with a troubled veteran has become difficult. To maintain communication with a veteran, courts have utilized various electronic platforms like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and WebEx as long as they are HIPAA compliant. For those veterans that do not have access to those platforms, some courts are providing cell phones to veterans without access to them.
Ex Parte Communication
Normally, judges and lawyers are ethically prohibited from speaking with only one side of a court matter. However, during the isolation caused by COVID-19, some veterans may be suffering from serious mental health issues and may be considering self-harm or self-medication with alcohol or illegal substances. In these instances, a judge, member of the court, or a police officer may give the veteran a welfare check and make sure they are ok.
Alcohol and Drug Testing
Another concern the court may have is to ensure the veteran does not engage in substance abuse. Prior to COVID-19, courts would give the veterans random drug tests to gauge their progress. Now, during the pandemic, courts began to have a probation officer deliver test kits to the veteran’s home and stand six feet away as the veteran’s throat is swabbed. Other courts have mailed test kits to the veterans which detect various drugs and alcohol.
Personal Interaction Between The Court and The Veteran
While the pandemic created major obstacles, Veteran’s Court has adapted well in keeping track of and maintaining treatment of our veterans. In fact, several judges have observed, the less formal and more relaxed virtual interactions, has allowed the court and the veteran to look directly into one another’s eyes which makes the conversations more meaningful to the veterans. Not being in a formal courtroom also made it possible for the veteran to discuss his or her progress and goal setting in a more intimate manner. Based on the positive feedback from veterans and judges, these new procedures may become the “new normal” in Veteran’s Treatment Courts after the pandemic has ended.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today About Your Options as a Veteran
If you are a combat veteran facing criminal charges, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been in practice for over 38 years and can help you protect your rights and ensure that you receive the appropriate treatment in your matter. Call us today at 888-749-0034 or visit us online at www.wklaw.com. We will be there for you when you call.
Wallin & Klarich Fights for Our Veterans
From Partner Jonathan Lynn:
My client was charged with assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon for driving his car into a firefighter. The charge presumptively carried a sentence of a minimum of 3 years in state prison. The District Attorney’s initial offer was 3 years in prison. We were able to show that my client panicked after seeing the firefighter when he was leaving the hospital due to a medical emergency. We were able to connect my client with a liaison from the VA who offered a treatment plan for my client’s service-related depression and PTSD. After we presented everything to the judge, the judge sentenced my client to probation only with a requirement that he follow the treatment plan and no additional time in custody.
From Partner Eric A. Jones:
My most successful Veteran’s court outcome, by far, involved a client who was still active duty in the Army and had almost 20 years of service, so he was close to being eligible to retire. He was charged with felony false imprisonment and felony domestic violence against his wife. He had no prior record. Because of his years of military service, including multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and untreated PTSD that was tied to the underlying offense, they let him complete the Veteran’s treatment program while still enlisted. He never even pled guilty to any of the felony charges as this would have triggered the firearm ban and ended his military career. Instead, the veteran’s court probation terms were ordered as a term of his release from custody while the case was still going on. Once he completed the 18-month program, the DA dismissed the charges. The client was able to stay in the military before and after the entire process.