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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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What To Know About Utah Protective Order Hearings

CourtroomDomestic violence has received increased national awareness in recent months. More people have spoken out about the seriousness of this issue, often helping victims understand their options. In the state of Utah, domestic violence often involves current or former spouses, people in dating relationships, or members of the same household.

Many of these cases can result in the issuance of protective orders. In Utah, there are two types of protective orders that a court may issue under the Cohabitant Abuse Act:

  • Criminal protective orders are issued when there are criminal domestic violence charges against an alleged offender. A court may issue a protective order while a case is pending or after an alleged offender has been convicted.
  • Civil protective orders are sought from courts by alleged victims in cases in which there may not be criminal charges. There are two types of civil protective orders: Temporary protective orders and final protective orders.

Temporary protective orders are frequently called “ex parte” protective orders. Ex parte is Latin for “by or for one party,” and ex parte judicial proceedings are conducted solely for the benefit of one party. A Utah court may issue an ex parte protective order based only on testimony from the alleged victim. These types of protective orders are temporary and will expire if they are not extended at hearing dates.

The issuance of an ex parte protective order will usually lead to a date being set for a final protective order hearing, typically within 20 days. During this hearing, an alleged offender will have the opportunity to present his or her own case. Because emotions usually run high in these types of cases, it is wise to have legal representation for a protective order hearing.

Under Utah Code § 78B-7-106, a protective order may grant the following types of relief to alleged victims:

  • Prohibit the alleged offender from threatening to commit or committing domestic violence or abuse against the alleged victim and any designated family or household member
  • Prohibit the alleged offender from harassing, telephoning, contacting, or otherwise communicating with the alleged victim, directly or indirectly
  • Order that the alleged offender to leave and stay away from the residence, school, or place of employment of the alleged victim
  • Prohibit the alleged offender from purchasing, using, or possessing a firearm or other weapon specified by the court
  • Award possession and use of an automobile and other essential personal effects to the alleged victim
  • Grant to the alleged victim temporary custody of any minor children
  • Order any further relief that the court considers necessary to provide for the safety and welfare of the alleged victim and any designated family or household member
  • Order the alleged offender to pay child support or spousal support

Alleged offenders need to remember that temporary protective orders are still in effect when both parties appear in court for the final hearing, meaning that any confrontations outside the courthouse may lead to criminal charges for violations of protective orders. Again, it is wise to seek the help of an experienced lawyer who can help prepare written statements, present evidence and witnesses, and generally ensure all legal guidelines are properly followed.

Legal counsel will not only help you prepare the strongest possible initial case, but will also understand what your appeal options are if you are preparing for a protective order hearing. If you have an upcoming protective order hearing in Utah, contact a Salt Lake City domestic violence defense attorney today to discuss your case and understand all of your legal options.

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