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Veterans Court

Veterans Treatment Courts in California

Among the millions of military veterans who have served in wartime environments over the past two decades, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, a great many are suffering from diagnosable mental health conditions like PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and others.

Left untreated, disorders frequently trigger behavior that can result in criminal charges, causing many military veterans to enter the vicious cycle and revolving door of the criminal justice system—this, after all the trauma they have already faced.

Veterans Treatment Courts in California
Veterans who get arrested might be eligible for needed treatment rather than serving jail time.

But here in California, a unique judicial approach is making a significant difference in the lives of military veterans facing criminal charges.

This initiative, known as Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs), offers a supportive path to recovery for veterans grappling with PTSD, addiction, and other disorders related to their service. The Veterans Court is often a lifeline for struggling veterans.

It's an intensive rehabilitation program that allows some former military members who are facing criminal charges to avoid jail time and a criminal record. To be considered, you will need to be eligible for probation and suffering from addiction or a mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Veterans Treatment Court is an alternative sentencing program. You might be eligible if you are a veteran struggling with mental illness and facing criminal charges. Under California Penal Code 1170.9 PC, this program provides veterans treatment such as rehab and counseling instead of incarceration.

Depending on the case, if you successfully finish Veterans Court, your charges will be reduced or dismissed. Notably, the Veterans Court is different from Penal Code 1001.80 PC Military Diversion.

If you are a military veteran currently facing criminal charges, you may be eligible to have your case transferred to a VTC, where treatment options may provide you with an alternative to jail time.

What Are Veterans Treatment Courts?

Veterans Treatment Courts are specialized court programs designed to handle cases involving veteran offenders through comprehensive supervision, treatment, and support.

What Are Veterans Treatment Courts?
Veterans Treatment Courts specialize in helping offenders through treatment and supervision.

Instead of operating within the traditional court system, these courts function on a separate track, offering treatment plans tailored to address veterans' specific needs.

California currently has 33 Veterans Treatment Courts spread across 29 counties. Additionally, over 20 courts throughout the state offer authorization for Veterans' Treatment Programs, spanning across 100 locations statewide.

The foundation of the VTC lies in understanding and acknowledging the unique experiences that veterans have been through. These courts recognize that the trauma associated with military service can often lead to legal issues.

The focus of VTCs is not on punishment but on treatment and rehabilitation. They aim to help veterans reintegrate into society while addressing the root causes of their behavior.

As noted, under Penal Code 1170.9 PC, this program provides specific veteran treatment, such as rehabilitation and counseling, rather than incarceration. Depending on the case, you may be able to accomplish the following:

  • Avoid prison time;
  • Get an early termination of probation;
  • Get a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor; or
  • Get a criminal charge completely dismissed.

How the VTC Program Works

Veterans Treatment Court is effectively a diversionary program by which eligible veteran defendants can avoid jail time by completing the program requirements—and, in many cases, can even have their criminal records sealed upon completion.

This rehabilitative approach helps the veteran avoid jail time and a criminal record and disrupts the cycle, making it far less likely for them to commit repeat offenses.

Each program is tailored to the veteran's specific needs based on the root cause of their issues. Participation in a VTC program generally lasts 15-18 months and may include any/all of the following requirements:

  • Psychological and substance abuse evaluations;
  • Court-approved, comprehensive treatment plans;
  • Regular meetings with judicial officers, mentors, support teams, etc.
  • Education or job training programs;
  • Participation in counseling sessions and support groups;
  • Obtaining/maintaining stable housing;
  • Random drug testing.

The goal of the VTC program is to provide veterans with all the resources necessary for a successful recovery and reintegration.

The team behind each veteran's case comprises representatives from county mental health, probation, social services, shelters, treatment providers, legal aid attorneys, and veteran support organizations.

This team works collaboratively to give the veteran every opportunity for success. That being said, a VTC program relies on strict adherence. If you are accepted into a VTC program and fail to adhere to the requirements, you could be remanded back into incarceration.

What are the Benefits of a VTC Program?

Veterans Treatment Courts offer countless benefits for veterans with criminal charges, including:

  • Access to mental health services, counseling, and other specialized treatment options;
  • Avoiding jail time;
  • Sealing of criminal records upon completion;
  • Support from peers, mentors, and team members who understand the unique experience of being a veteran;
  • Improved reintegration into society and reduced recidivism risk, reducing the financial burden on the criminal justice system and overcrowded jails and prisons;
  • If you successfully complete the program, your criminal case will often be dismissed and expunged under Penal Code 1203.4 PC;
  • In some cases, the charge will get reduced to a lesser offense, such as a felony being reduced to a misdemeanor;
  • If the judge dismisses your case after completion of the program, you are not obligated to disclose the case on job applications.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements?

Acceptance into a VTC program is ultimately at the discretion of the judge; however, to be eligible for consideration for Veterans Treatment Court, you generally must meet the following criteria:

  • You served in any branch of the military, including Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard or reserves;
  • You are experiencing diagnosable symptoms of PTSD, traumatic brain injuries (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), substance addiction, or another recognized mental health disorder;
  • You have pled guilty to a misdemeanor or felony offense, and
  • You are willing to participate in a 15-18 program;
  • You must also be eligible for probation; and
  • You have an honorable discharge, but the court can make exceptions if you have a disability caused by military service.

In most circumstances, veterans guilty of gang-related or sex crimes won't be considered for the program, such as oral copulation or lewd acts with a minor. Those charged with violent felonies will be considered case-by-case, as will those without an honorable discharge from their service.

How Can You Apply for Veterans Treatment Court?

Judges could offer this program to acknowledge the difficult time many former military personnel have adjusting back to civilian life.

Most prosecutors understand that mental health problems often lead to negative contact with law enforcement officers. The courts typically understand that you have earned special treatment in certain cases.

How Can You Apply for Veterans Treatment Court?
Contact our law firm to review the case details.

The Veterans Treatment Court was designed to provide important life tools to help you stabilize your mental health and avoid further criminal behavior.  This program is usually the first chance you have to get your mental disorders or addictions diagnosed.

The process will vary by jurisdiction. Your California criminal defense attorney or a public defender can help you determine your eligibility and make a request to the court to admit you into the program.

The court might then order a mental health assessment, evaluations, and recommendations by a probation officer, specialists with Veterans Justice Outreach, and Veterans Court staff.

To seek help from a Veterans Treatment Court, your criminal case must typically be transferred to the VTC by the judge presiding over your case. If you are a military veteran in California charged with a crime and suffering from a mental health or substance disorder, talk to your criminal defense attorney to discuss eligibility.

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