Michigan Authorizes Creation of Veterans Treatment Courts
Governor Snyder has recently signed a law that allows district, circuit, and trial courts to create Veterans Treatment Courts within their jurisdictions. This program is designed to help members of the armed services who abuse or become dependent on drugs or alcohol, or who suffer from mental illness as a result of their service. A Veterans Treatment Court would be similar to the drug treatment court already in place in Berrien County.
To be eligible, a person cannot be charged with a violent offense. He or she must complete a confidential pre admissions screening and evaluation assessment. This screening will evaluate:
- Whether the person is a qualified veteran (including certain reserve branch members);
- Whether the person has previously participated in Veterans’ Treatment Court, Drug Treatment Court, or another specialty court, and the result of that participation. Previous participation will not necessarily exclude a veteran, but a person may only have 1 conviction deferred or dismissed due to participation in any specialty court.
The evaluation assessment should be a clinical assessment completed by the local Veterans Administration and cover:
- The risk or danger the veteran poses to him or her self, others, or the community;
- The veteran’s use of alcohol and controlled substances;
- The veteran’s mental health history;
- Any special needs or circumstances that could affect the veteran’s receipt of treatment or ability to follow court orders.
If the person is eligible following the preadmissions screening and evaluation assessment, he or she must enter a plea of guilt to the charged offense (or a reduced charge if offered by the prosecuting attorney). The court may then accept the plea and defer judgment or sentencing and refer the person to the Veterans Treatment Court. If the person is eligible for a delayed sentence, dismissal, or deviation in sentencing upon completion of the Veterans Treatment Court, the prosecutor must approve the admission. If the person has already had one conviction deferred or dismissed under any of the statutes that allow such actions, the court must enter the judgment of guilt, but can still refer the person to the Veterans Treatment Court and delay sentencing. Traffic offenses cannot be deferred or dismissed. If a Veterans Treatment Court is not available in the court’s jurisdiction, the person can be transferred to another jurisdiction where services can be provided.
Once the person has been referred to the Veterans Treatment Court, he or she must cooperate with the many treatment providers, veterans affairs officials, and other professionals including law enforcement who will be involved in his or her case. The person may also be required to pay an administration fee for the cost of the Veterans Treatment Court, as well as paying for any treatment received. The court may waive these costs if they would be a substantial hardship on the person.
Participants in the program are provided:
- Close monitoring by the court, treatment providers and probation officers;
- Mentorship by another veteran of similar age, gender, branch of service, military rank, and period of military service whenever possible;
- Periodic and random drug and alcohol testing;
- Periodic evaluation assessments of the participant’s circumstances and progress;
- Regimen of rewards for compliance and sanctions (punishments) for noncompliance, which may include incarceration;
- Substance abuse treatment and relapse prevention services;
- Education and vocational training by the Veterans Administration; and
- Mental health treatment by the Veterans Administration when appropriate.
Upon successful completion of the Veterans Treatment Court program, the court may, if the person is eligible, dismiss the charges or enter a reduced sentence. If the person does not successfully complete the program he or she will be sentenced based on the original charge. Any subsequent felony during the person’s participation in the Veterans Treatment Court will result in termination from the program.
The authorization of the Veterans Treatment Court program addresses the need to better support this country’s returning veterans and assist them with their transition to civilian life. It allows veterans access to drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment, as well as a mentor who can help them make the transition without the added difficulty of a criminal record. It will now be up to each court to decide whether to implement this strategy in its own jurisdiction.
*Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case. It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.