California Veterans Facing Misdemeanor Charges May Choose Treatment

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Military Diversion on Misdemeanors per California Penal Code 1001.80 became effective 1 January 2015. This new law allows defendants who have been or are currently members of the U.S. Armed Forces and are suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse or other mental health problems as a result of their military service to be considered for pretrial diversion and dismissal of the charges upon successful completion of that diversion. The veteran may apply at any time prior to the adjudication process.

" Criminal defense for military personnel involves a lot of factors, including familiarity with the military and military justice system for those on active duty. A criminal defense attorney with this additional knowledge and experience is extremely helpful in dealing with criminal defense of military members including the diversion program." Attorney William R. Christoph

In order to qualify for military diversion, the veteran or active duty military defendant charged with any misdemeanor, including DUI, misdemeanor drug crimes or other misdemeanor offenses must file a motion with the Court demonstrating eligibility and suitability for diversion. This includes written documentation of military service and an assessment of the defendant's condition by a mental health professional or other professional, as well as a proposed mental health treatment plan by the mental health provider/assessor.

The District Attorney responds to the motion and can file opposition, then a Judge makes the rulings as to whether the defendant is eligible and suitable. If granted, the defendant waives the right to a speedy trial and agrees to the diversion period not to exceed two years and treatment plan recommended with progress review dates. Upon successful completion, the arrest shall be deemed never to have occurred and the defendant can answer that he/she was never arrested nor diverted. It cannot "be used in any way to deny employment, benefit, license or certificate." PC 1000.80(i) (Exception is Peace Officer Application)

Support For Veterans Among The Mental Health Community

The bill was sponsored by Honorable (D) Loni Hancock, of the California State Senate's 9 th District in the northern East Bay area. Important support came from various mental health proponent agencies throughout the state, perhaps none more important than the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) California Chapter. In a letter dated April 7 th, 2014, shortly before the first hearing was scheduled in the California State House, NAMI Executive Director Jessica Cruz wrote in support of the bill, saying that veterans need and deserve the same level of treatment as anyone living with a serious mental illness.

"Persons who have committed offenses due to states of mind or behavior caused by a serious mental illness do not belong in penal or correctional institutions. Such persons require treatment, not punishment."

Despite strong support from mental health providers and members of the Senate, the bill did not pass without some difficulty, primarily related to state funding requirements. After receiving its first hearing in early April, the bill was placed in the Appropriations Suspense file on April 28th, where it might have died without the continued efforts of Hancock and co-sponsors. The amended bill was heard again in late May and sent to subsequent rounds of amendment hearings before reaching the Senate for a floor for assembly vote. The final measure passed by more than a two-thirds margin.

Costs Offset Now By Savings In Social Programs Later

Today, because of the diversion bill, active service members and veterans with substance abuse issues and mental health problems may receive diversion and dismissal if they successfully complete the diversion process which includes professional treatment for their conditions, saving themselves from a criminal record. California taxpayers get the benefit of saving significant amounts of money that would otherwise be used for costs of incarceration, social welfare programs and MediCal payments for later treatment.

Eligible? Talk To An Experienced Military Criminal Defense Lawyer.

If you are on active duty or a veteran facing a misdemeanor criminal charge and may have service-related mental health issue as indicated, talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with the military to help you achieve the best result in Court.

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