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Criminal Defense Commentary

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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Robbery and Aggravated Robbery: Part 1 – Force or Fear

 

If you have been charged with Robbery or Aggravated Robbery in Utah, then you should speak with an experienced and determined Utah criminal defense attorney, who frequently represents clients accused of violent crimes.  Having a skilled, focused, and detail-oriented criminal defense attorney on your side can mean the difference between emerging from your criminal legal problems unscathed and going to jail or prison.

Utah Code section 76-6-301(1)(a) defines robbery as the taking of “personal property in the possession of another from his person, or immediate presence, against his will, by means of force or fear, and with a purpose or intent to deprive the person permanently or temporarily of the personal property.”  Robbery is a second degree felony.

Perhaps the most important element of the robbery is the “‘force’ or ‘fear’” clause.  You may be surprised to learn what the Utah Supreme Court has found constitutes force or fear for the purpose of robbery.

Imagine two teenagers at the mall. One kid takes the other’s sunglasses and cell phone, and won’t return it to him after several requests.  The two kids agree to “slap box” for the items.  One of the kids then clenches his fist, hits the other in the head, and walks off with the other’s personal items.  These were the facts in the case of State in the Interest of D.B., 925 P.2d 178 (Utah Ct. Apps. 1996).  In that case, the Court declined to follow the “transactional approach” and held that the ‘”force or fear” in robbery need not be in the act of taking of the property, but rather in accomplishing the taking of the property either prior to its taking or in its completion.  So D.B. was guilty of robbery even though he didn’t use force in accomplishing the acquisition of the cell phone and sunglasses, he did use force in completion of the taking, and that was sufficient enough to satisfy the fear or force element of the crime of robbery.

Consider another, more recent case of State v. Phillips, 2006 UT App 211.  Defendant Phillips had taken compact discs from a library when a security guard approached him.  Phillips responded “I have a knife” and displayed a knife hidden in his sleeve.  The security guard feared for his life, and the court held that by flashing the knife during his attempted escape, Phillips used the fear of force in the immediate flight after his theft.  Additionally, his crime was enhanced to aggravated robbery, a first degree felony, since Phillips used a dangerous weapon in the course of committing a robbery.

“A person commits aggravated robbery if in the course of committing robbery, he: (a) uses or threatens the use of a dangerous weapon as defined in Section 76-1-601; (b) causes serious bodily injury upon another; or (c) takes or attempts to take an operable motor vehicle.” Utah Code § 76-6-302(1).

If you have been charged with Robbery or Aggravated Robbery in Utah, a trained and experienced criminal defense attorney can mean all the difference. Click here to contact a trained professional in Salt Lake City, Utah to begin protecting your rights today.

 

 

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Violent Crime Rates Drastically Cut in Utah

Violent Crime Arrests in Utah

With the slow economy, states across the nation have slashed funding to important services, including law enforcement and public safety, leaving residents nervous about their health and safety. Surprisingly, the rates of violent crimes have dropped in the country, with an average national decrease of six percent nationwide according to an FBI report. This FBI report includes murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault in the definition of “violent crime.”

This FBI study has also found that Utah experienced a drop of two percent in violent crimes during 2010, compared to the previous year. Most astonishing is the sharp decrease in violent crime statistics in cities such as St. George, located in Williamson County, which saw a 26% decrease. All of this, despite fewer resources available to law enforcement agencies!

However, the sluggish violent crime rates in Utah do not mean that the state is lenient to convicted offenders. In fact, Utah’s statutes contain harsh penalties for violent crime offenders, which may contribute to the comparatively low rates in the studies conducted by the FBI.

Among the types of violent crimes, assault is probably the most commonplace in Utah and across the country. Assault can even be considered a crime of passion in many cases as the alleged action is often the result of a strong impulse of rage or betrayal. While a first time assault offense in Utah can potentially be classified as a Class B misdemeanor (up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines), it can still appear on background checks. Given the frequent use of background checks by potential employers, a person convicted of a violent crime in Utah may find many opportunities closed to them. In this economy, the threat of this fate can serve as a strong deterrence.

Robbery crime rates in Utah are also among the lowest in the nation. Under Utah Criminal Code Section 76-6-301, an adult arrested for robbery in Salt Lake City can find him or herself facing steep penalties. Even a first robbery offense by a person with no prior criminal record can be punished a second degree felony. This is punishable by a prison sentence of one to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The penalty for aggravated robbery (in which a dangerous weapon is used or injury is caused) is even more severe as a first degree felony offense, potentially leading to life imprisonment and a hefty fine.

If you have been charged with a violent crime, whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony, it’s important to closely examine all of your legal options. Even if the odds appear stacked against you, you do have rights and an experienced assault attorney in Salt Lake City can help weaken the prosecution’s case against you. Regardless of the circumstances of your alleged offense, there are multiple paths which an attorney can use to pursue dismissed charges, minimized sentencing, and other favorable outcomes.

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