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In a prior post, I wrote about Veterans Treatment Court which offers solutions to the tragedy of our military veterans and their active duty brethren who are caught up in the criminal justice system because of military service related mental illnesses and other adjustment disorders. As I pointed out, that relief was only available to qualifying defendants who had been convicted of felonies. It may well have been on your mind that similar relief should be available for less serious crimes. Well, it is!

Enacted in August of 2017, the Military Diversion Program (Calif. Penal Code section 1001.80) applies to misdemeanor cases if

(1) The defendant was, or currently is, a member of the United States military; and
(2) The defendant may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems as a result of his or her military service.

If the court determines that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor meets these criteria, the court, with the consent of the defendant and a waiver of the defendant’s speedy trial right, may place the defendant in a pretrial diversion program, which means that his or her case is postponed long enough to provide an opportunity to complete counseling or other treatment options to address the underlying issues that resulted in the defendant’s arrest. The period of diversion or treatment cannot be longer than 2 years. Examples of the types of treatment contemplated are drug and alcohol testing and counseling, DMV mandated DUI classes, and batterer’s intervention classes for those accused of domestic abuse. In appropriate cases, the defendant will be ordered to make monetary restitution for his or her crime. If the defendant completes the diversion program, the defendant’s arrest will be deemed by the court to have never occurred.

The benefits to qualifying defendants are obvious. First, these individuals are given a chance to examine and address their service-related adjustment disorders. In many cases, these are disorders that they did not even know they had. Second, they don’t have to go to jail for their crime, unless they commit a new crime or fail to complete their treatment regimen while on diversion. Finally, they do not have to disclose the fact of their arrest on job applications unless the application is for employment in law enforcement, and the fact of their arrest or participation in a diversion program cannot be used in any way that could result in the denial license, or certificate, although the DMV can still suspend or revoke the driver’s license of someone arrested for DUI.

There are differences between Veterans Treatment Court and Military diversion. First, as indicated, Veterans Treatment Court is only available on felony cases, and military diversion is only used for misdemeanor cases. Second, and more importantly, a defendant is only eligible for Veterans Treatment Court after he or she pleads guilty or no-contest to the charges he or she faces. Military diversion is a “pre-plea” program, meaning the defendant doesn’t have to admit wrongdoing to establish eligibility for the program. There are more differences, but these are the two most important.

More important though is that both programs represent a legislative and judicial commitment to the restoration of our military personnel who have found themselves in trouble to their families and communities. Those that participate in them meaningfully are provided a personal sense of accomplishment and redemption. A new friend labels his electronic mail with a very healthy reminder for all of us: ‘A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his, or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The ‘United States of America’, for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’ Compassionate and innovative programs like Veterans Treatment Court and Military Diversion are the least we, as a grateful society, should do for those that have sacrificed so much for so many?