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Veterans Court and Diversion

What is Veterans Court?

Veterans Court is a special set of courts that deal specifically with veterans who suffer from mental health conditions. These include but are not limited to any addictions that may have resulted in them being caught up in the criminal justice system. This may include service-connected PTSD or other mental health problems such as depression. Veteran Courts are designed to “divert” the veteran from the regular criminal justice system to try to avoid incarceration. In turn, they aim to replace it with counseling and mental health treatment to help the Veteran become a successful member of society and avoid future contact with the law. It is a program designed to recognize the sacrifice veterans have made for the country and recognize that the very act of being in military service may have contributed to the veterans enmeshment in the criminal justice system. A felony may be reduced to a misdemeanor, and/or all charges dismissed against the defendant.

What is Military Diversion?

Military Diversion is different from Veterans Court. Military Diversion operates under a different statute, Penal Code Section 1001.80, and is available only for veterans that:

  • Were charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
  • Have never been given diversion in the past; and
  • Have not been previously convicted of a similar offense.

It does not operate as a separate court like Veterans Court and is narrower in scope.

What are the Requirements of Being Admitted to the Veterans Court in California?

Types of Crimes: Both misdemeanors and felonies can qualify. However, sex, gang and violent crimes are often disqualifying. This is always evaluated by and determined within the judge’s discretion to allow veterans having committed those types of serious crimes to enter into Veterans Court.

Other Criteria:

  • The defendant must have served in the military including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard or reserves.
  • The defendant must first plead guilty in their criminal case (this is not a “pre-plea” type of diversion).
  • The defendant must agree to participate in a treatment program (which may be residential).
  • The defendant must usually have an honorable discharge, though the judge can use their discretion and allow veterans with other types of discharges into Veterans Court.
  • The defendant must have a documented service-related mental health or psychological disorder such as PTSD, substance abuse, etc. that is 10% or more service related.
  • The mental health disorder must be the cause of or a contributing factor to the criminal conduct and must be shown by appropriate evidence, usually by that of a mental health expert.
  • The defendant must be entitled to veterans benefits which means he cannot have a dishonorable discharge.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is required to complete an evaluation of the suitability of a veteran who wants to be accepted by Veterans Court.

Veterans Court Program Requirements and Procedures. The following conditions and procedures are part of the Veterans Court program:

  • The defendant is placed under the supervision of the Veterans Administration pursuant to Court Order by the Judge.
  • The Veterans Administration will prepare a personalized program of treatment and care for the veteran which is usually covered by the veteran’s VA benefits.
  • Residential treatment can be ordered by the court if appropriate.
  • Frequent and random drug testing, along with random home visits, can be a requirement of the program.
  • The court will require periodic progress hearings to see if the defendant is complying with the terms of the program.
  • If the defendant fails to follow the program, or makes no progress, or picks-up another criminal case, or violates drug testing the court can remove them from the program and reinstitute criminal proceedings, i.e. sentence the defendant since he/she has already plead guilty to the crime.
  • The court has the option of giving a defendant an additional chance (or more than one chance) to comply with the program if it thinks the defendant can ultimately succeed.
  • The program and supervision usually lasts a minimum of 18 months but can go as long as 5 years.
  • If the defendant succeeds, a graduation is held in the court, and the defendant is released from the program and Veterans Court.

Additional Information about Veterans Court

Not all counties in California have a Veterans Court. Los Angeles County currently has two such courts - one in downtown Los Angeles and one in Long Beach. There are usually 4 parts to the Veterans Court program. First, the initial evaluation takes place which involves establishing a treatment plan. This is done by the Veterans Administration with required frequent meetings with the court for progress reports. This process on average can take about four months to complete. The second phase normally has a duration of three months with fewer weekly meetings and mandatory drug testing. The third portion lasts for five months with the continuation of the program and fewer weekly meetings. Lastly, the fourth and final part involves acclimating the defendant into a normalized daily routine. Successful completion of Veterans Court usually means no jail time is required (though in some cases Veterans Court reduces the amount of jail time ultimately required) and often the charges are completely dismissed and expunged.

How do I get into Veterans Court?

You need an attorney experienced with the rules and procedures concerning Veterans Court. To apply to Veterans Court on your behalf immediately after you are arrested for a crime, call Kenneth H. Lewis now. We can help you avoid incarceration and criminal charges, but only you can turn your life around!

Protect your rights! Call Ken Lewis now to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION at: (213) 255-3011, day or night. Its your freedom, and you need the very best representation to protect it!

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