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Orange County, CA Veterans and the Criminal Justice System – Part 2

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a real problem in our veterans returning from combat deployments. Many times the conditions are not diagnosed until the veteran becomes a defendant in the criminal justice system. How the criminal justice system deals with these defendants is a great challenge in the future.

The Veteran’s Court has been instituted in some courts in California in an effort to acknowledge the veteran’s service and deal with it in an organized, comprehensive fashion complete with Veteran’s Administration participation. Yet, what happens to the veteran who doesn’t qualify for Veteran’s Court? While Veteran’s Court is a great alternative when available, in some jurisdictions, Veteran’s Court doesn’t even exist. Now Veteran’s Court funding, as all the system’s funding, is at risk.

The prosecutor who is willing to consider the defendant’s service in a meaningful way has many options at his disposal, short of entry into Veteran’s Court. A criminal defense attorney needs to present a creative alternative to a conviction or a jail sentence to the prosecutor. For example, a criminal case could be delayed with the requirement that the defendant attend counseling, job training, and medical evaluation. Community service is an option that could be added to any delay or continuance of the proceedings. The goal of the delay would be to show the prosecutor that the defendant deserves a second chance. The defendant must be willing to meet his obligation to overcome the issues that brought him to the criminal justice system’s attention. If drugs or alcohol are the cause of criminal conduct, the defendant has to meet the challenges that addiction brings. In-house residential treatment instead of jail time should be considered as an option. Out-patient follow up with vocational training showing the prosecutor that this defendant is not likely to re-offend is a must.

The prosecutor must be convinced that society will be protected and better served, not by just punishment, but by trying to make the defendant whole again. Continuances to show acceptance of responsibility, treatment to establish a drug free life, alternative sentencing if conviction is mandated are a few solutions available to the defense attorney. Every manner of alternative thinking must be on the table in the representation of the defendant who is a veteran. In order to do that, the defense attorney must be specially aware of the unique problems and solutions available to our military.