Many veterans find themselves charged with criminal offenses as they try to adjust to life after service. Sometimes, the profound effects of military service create difficulties decades later. Fortunately, our legislature and courts have fashioned special courts to help veterans avoid or limit the negative consequences of a conviction.
Veterans charged with a criminal offense where the conduct underlying the charge(s) has some connection to military service may be eligible to participate in special court programs. Service-related conditions include a traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sexual trauma, substance abuse, or other mental health problems.
Our legislature has authorized relief for veterans who meet certain criteria both before trial and after conviction. Several California counties have also set up collaborative veteran’s court programs in addition to the programs created by the legislature. Click here for a complete list of veteran treatment courts in California.
San Diego was the first county in the state to launch a veteran’s court program, and it has since been used as a model for other courts. Based on this model, many counties have fashioned collaborative courts to help provide our veterans with supportive services to afford them an opportunity to avoid the stigma of criminal convictions and incarceration where service-related condition(s) contributed to their conduct.
The collaborative court model is just that—collaborative. Judges that preside over Veterans Courts are most often veterans, and they work collaboratively with the local district attorney’s offices, probation departments, representatives of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and local treatment facilities in formulating individually tailored program plans for each veteran who is accepted into the Veterans Court program.
Based on your particular service-related condition, a treatment plan can be quite intensive. You may be asked to keep in regular contact with different treatment providers, medical and mental health professionals, and your local VA. If you are seeking post-conviction relief, you will also need to maintain regular contact with the local probation department. Compliance with your personal program plan is essential to your success in the program.
Early studies into these collaborative courts demonstrate a remarkable rate of success. Seventy percent of defendants finish their program plans, and 75 percent of participants are not arrested for at least two years after they participate in a Veterans Court program.
Misdemeanor Pretrial Diversion
Penal Code section 1001.80 authorizes a pretrial military diversion program. Before you can be accepted into the program, it must be shown that you are suffering from one of the service-related conditions described.
If you successfully complete the pretrial diversion program, the arrest and charges that brought you to Veterans Court are deemed to have never occurred.
Penal Code section 1170.9 authorizes a court to consider a veteran’s service-related condition(s) as a factor in favor of granting probation rather than sentencing the veteran to jail or state prison following a criminal conviction. It also authorizes a court to order mental health services, substance abuse treatment, or provide the veteran with other local resources to appropriately address the service-related condition(s) that contributed to the conduct underlying the conviction.
Although Penal Code section 1170.9 provides relief after a conviction, it also authorizes a court to terminate probation early, reduce a felony to a misdemeanor, or dismiss the charges that led to the veteran’s conviction if a veteran has demonstrated success in the court-ordered requirements of probation.
How we can help
We are honored to have worked with many military veterans facing criminal allegations. Our experience working with veterans and our understanding of the Veterans Court and other programs available helps the veterans we serve move through a difficult time to achieve a successful outcome.