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Orange County, CA Veterans and the Criminal Justice System — Part I

Veteran’s Day is celebrated once every year by the country. Yet the sacrifice by our veterans is not always so easily recognized any day in the current criminal court system.

Often times I represent men and women who have served our country both in actual combat and in supporting roles. These individuals find themselves traumatized by their service experience to the United States of America. When they come home, all too often there are difficulties coping with day to day life. Sometimes hurdles seem too high to overcome. Depression can set in. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol can become an unhealthy and illegal fix to problems that seem overwhelming.

Once the veteran turns to drugs and alcohol he encounters the criminal justice system. When that happens, what role should the veteran’s military service play in the disposition of the case? I think that the veteran deserves every consideration possible under the law. The prosecutor should evaluate the case understanding that the veteran’s (defendant’s) service has helped protect the very system he now finds himself in.

Too often the prosecutor has the attitude that this veteran (defendant) isn’t any different than anyone else. The common mantra of the prosecutor is, “Everyone should be treated the same no matter what their personal story or background is. Justice is blind”.

To that, I respond, justice has to open it’s eyes to who people are, what caused them to come into contact with law enforcement, and if they are veterans to appreciate the trauma they have suffered in the defense of our country. True justice cannot afford to be blind. The veteran deserves to have his service recognized as a cause of his criminal conduct and every effort needs to be made to recognize this in fashioning a resolution of the criminal case. Rehabilitation and not punishment must be the goal. To do anything else is just criminal.