The Miller Law Firm Blog

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Veterans Court - A Collaborative Justice Program

With everything in the world news, it is important to keep in mind the realities many of our young military members face when they return home from service. Many veterans return home suffering from mental health and drug abuse issues developed from their time in the military. They return to society without the tools or support necessary to combat these overwhelming obstacles - leaving many to find themselves caught up in the legal system.  

In 2010, with a steep rise in veteran arrests, California instituted a program known as “Veterans Court.” It is a collaborative justice program aimed at helping veterans who are arrested for felonies to receive treatment instead of incarceration. The program was expanded to include misdemeanors as well.

Veterans Court honors the sacrifices of our military service members by providing mental health and substance abuse services to those who have returned home and suffer from issues relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), Military Sexual Trauma (MST), substance abuse, or other diagnosed mental health disorders.

Instead of being released from incarceration with a felony conviction, the veteran can earn a dismissal of all charges and gain critical counseling and treatment pursuant to the terms of Penal Code §1170.9. This allows the veteran to repair the wounds that led them to being arrested in the first place and have the tools necessary to be successful in life.

I’ve had multiple clients facing years in prison for serious felonies that avoided incarceration because of Veterans Court. They were treated with the dignity and respect they deserved and received the treatment they needed. While Veterans Court requires the strict commitment of the veteran, the positive results are telling of what collaborative justice programs can achieve if applied to other areas of our justice system.

This case was hard fought and neither myself nor my client ever gave up fighting. After preliminary hearing we worked tirelessly to convince the Veterans Court judge to accept her into the program. While crimes of violence are generally not accepted into Veterans Court, and despite vehement objections by the district attorney, the judge took a chance on my client and admitted her into the program.

My client showed tremendous bravery and commitment to confront the issues that led to her arrests. I am proud to say that this past year she graduated from college - around the time she would have been released from prison. 

Her story is one of perseverance and demonstrates what hard work and a system’s focus on rehabilitation can have on people. Especially when they are provided with the tools and opportunities to do better. 

Veterans Court, much like Drug Court and other collaborative justice programs, should be applied more broadly to help reduce our massive incarceration rates. These programs provide our fellow citizens with the tools to become productive members of society, rather than putting them through the cycle of incarceration that has unfortunately become our system of justice. 

“In 2014 I had a mental health crisis and was charged with a felony. I was facing two years in a California state prison. Miller was able to secure me a spot in the Antelope Valley Veterans Court program where I was directed to obtain intensive mental health services. Miller was personable and went above and beyond to ease my stress during the entire process.   Because of his hard work my charges were dropped and now two years later I am graduating college instead of being released from prison.”

-C.Rhoad on April 8, 2017

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