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Veteran’s Court Program: An Alternative to Incarceration for U.S. Veterans

Utah Veteran's CourtAccording to the United States Department of Justice’s special report on veterans in prison and jail, which was released in December 2015, 181,500 veterans were incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. From 2011-2012 armed forces veterans made up 8 percent of the jail and prison population.

The figures regarding incarcerated veterans are especially troubling considering approximately half of veterans in jail or prison have been diagnosed with a mental disorder by a medical professional. Commonly, veteran suffer from serious mental health issues after military service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which contribute to  criminal and violent behavior.

Studies show veterans are more likely to be sentenced for violent crimes than non-veterans. Of the veterans convicted, more than 77 percent were honorably discharged or discharged under honorable conditions.

Commonly, veterans were charged with the following offenses:

  • Domestic Violence
  • Driving Under the Influence/Drunk Driving (DUI)
  • Weapons/Firearms Charges
  • Assault/Aggravated Assault

Utah law makers recognize that the men and women who served honorably in the United States Armed Forces face unique and pronounced obstacles reintegrating into society after military service and combat. In response, the Utah Legislature created Veteran’s Courts, also called the Justice Outreach Initiative, in March of 2015.

Utah Code §78A-5-301, the legislation which authorizes Veteran’s Courts, allows former active military, naval, or air service members to enter the program upon entering a plea of guilty or plea in abeyance (or no contest).  Both low-level and more serious offenders are eligible for the program.

Acceptance into the Veteran’s Court is discretionary and requires a showing of why the program is appropriate based on the criminal offense. If you are a veteran or former military member charged with a criminal offense anywhere in Utah, including Salt Lake County, Box Elder County, Cache County, Weber County, or surrounding areas, it is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney about the Utah Veteran’s Court program.

What is the Veteran’s Program?

Veteran’s Court is a collaborative program involving defense attorneys, prosecutors, the court, and the United States Office of Veteran Affairs that is designed to help veteran; particularly those who suffer with post-traumatic stress syndrome or other mental illness, connect with the resources they need and reintegrate into society.

As part of the Veteran’s Court program, the following requirements must be met:

  1. The defendant must be a former member of the military, naval, or air service;
  2. The defendant must enter a plea of guilty or a plea in abeyance to criminal charges;
  3. As part of the program, the defendant is subject to frequent alcohol testing (if appropriate);
  4. The defendant must participate in veteran diversion outreach program, including substance abuse program (if appropriate); and
  5. The defendant must fulfill any additional sanctions or penalties imposed by the Court, which are appropriate to promote public safety, safety of victim(s), and are consistent with the defendant’s due process rights.

The Utah Veteran’s Court Program accepts defendants charged with low-level and serious offenses. According to Richard Schwermer, assistant Utah State Courts administrator, in a June 2015 interview, the Veteran’s Court program is dedicated to individuals who are already pained by the deaths of their comrades. The program is committed to helping them.

He emphatically stated:

“If we don’t take them in veteran’s court, by definition they’re going to get less help. That’s why we take the folks with very serious issues.”

Why do I Need an Attorney for the Veteran’s Program?

While the Veteran’s Court Program is dedicated to the rehabilitation and treatment of former United States Armed Forces members, acceptance into the program is discretionary. This means that an individual is not automatically accepted into the program by virtue of veteran status.

  1. Veteran’s Court is Not Automatic: The veteran defendant must show that he or she deserves acceptance into the program. Veteran’s Court does accept both low-level and more serious criminal defendants; however, the defendant must show he or she can be rehabilitated and will not show a continuing threat to the public. An experienced criminal defense attorney can identify the necessary evidence to support why acceptance into the program is appropriate.
  2. Adherence to Program Requirements is Important: The Veteran’s Court Program is not a “get out of jail free” card. Participants must follow the program’s strict requirements, which include peer mentoring, substance abuse counseling, alcohol abuse counseling, regular court check-ins, and frequent alcohol testing. Failure to adhere to these requirements could result in dismissal from the program and subject the defendant to jail time and expensive fines.
  3. Expunction is Possible upon Completion: Also, the benefits of the Veteran’s Court program are too great to leave up to chance. Upon acceptance and completion of the program, the criminal charges are dropped or the defendant’s criminal record is expunged.

Expunction or the process of clearing the criminal offense from public record is key to a veteran getting his or her life back on track after receiving tools and resources from the Veteran’s Court program.

Conclusion

Darren Levitt of Levitt Legal is an experienced criminal defense attorney based in Salt Lake City, Utah. He represents veterans and civilians, who have been charged with criminal offenses, including domestic violence, assault, DUI, theft, and more.

Levitt Legal proudly defends individuals throughout Utah, including Salt Lake City, Sandy, West Jordan, West Valley City, and surrounding areas. Contact Levitt Legal at 801-455-1743 for a confidential review of your case. Attorney available 24/7.

References:

 Utah Code §78A-5-301 ǀ Veterans Court

National Alliance of Mental Illness-Veterans and Active Duty

Department of Justice ǀ Veterans in Prison and Jail, 2011-12

Department of Justice ǀ Veterans in Prison and Jail, 2004

 

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