A few years ago, a move began to help our veterans in the criminal justice system. Several courts have developed either specialized prosecution courts or probation supervision. I have many potential clients contact me asking about veterans court. They believe it is free pass for having committed a crime. That is not the case. Rather, veterans court, when one is eligible, is either a from of probation, or a special type of prosecution.
Courts and some Prosecuting Agencies have acknowledged that Veterans may suffer from numerous issues including, but not limited to:
*Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
*Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
*Anger Control Issues
*Domestic Violence (DV)
*Alcohol, Drug, and other Substance Abuse
By creating these special courts or probation, the court and prosecutors are trying to deal with the basic issues and causes for veterans caught in the criminal justice system. It is the hope that these programs can develop a mechanism to treat veterans in a beneficial and advantageous manner.
In Maricopa County, felonies are prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) in the Superior Court. The Superior Court does NOT have a Veterans Court. Rather, if the MCAO permits the possibility, and the Court subsequently agrees, one can receive a probationary grant with supervision by probation and given terms of probation beneficial to veterans.
Veterans Court is designed to work with high risk veterans who are currently on probation with the Maricopa County Adult Probation. As a function of probation, probation officers may work with Veterans Service Outreach Specialist, the VA Hospital, Correctional and Behavioral Health Providers, Correctional Health Services the MCAO and Legal Defender’s Office.
Keep in mind the real issue with this program is that it is POST CONVICTION. You will have already committed a crime, been prosecuted, and likely have a felony conviction. Afterwhich, you can receive the benefit of being in “Veterans Court.”
Unlike felony prosecution, several misdemeanor prosecuting agencies have an actual and different mindset to prosecuting veterans. In conjunction with the prosecutors for the different city courts and with the help of the Phoenix Veterans Administration (VA), the court is open to different resolutions to one’s criminal prosecution. If you elect to voluntarily enter the veterans program, then you may actually receive leniency in how your case is prosecuted.
In many cases, you may receive complete diversion. In other words, complete a counseling or treatment program and remain law abiding, and prosecutors will dismiss the charges. In other cases, prosecutors will consider substantially reduced charges relative to others charged with similar crimes.
At least in the city courts, they want to promote a program that focuses on ensuring veterans have access to and contact with specific programs to address the root causes of their criminal behavior. In many cases, it may be a medical trauma such as TBI, PTSD, alcohol or drug abuse, anger management. In a majority of cases, the underlying crimes are either DUI or crimes involving domestic violence.
In the city courts, eligible veterans will appear in court, on a completely separate court docket. Representatives from the VA will also be present and be able to actively assess any treatment or placement needs. Compared to cases in a traditional criminal prosecution track, the veterans court may require a longer period of time to clear a prosecution. But the end result is substantially better than other, non-veterans, would receive under similar circumstances.
The real question becomes who is eligible for relief either as a condition of probation or for veterans court? Obviously, one must be a veteran. When one served and for how long may also be an issue.
I have argued for eligibility despite service being decades ago. The real issue in my mind is whether the current criminal prosecution is related to something that happened during your service for our country. In many cases, my clients may have criminal records, but they never had the benefit of receiving the proper treatment. We need to prove your service and the underlying problem is the result of untreated issues, normally involving substance abuse or anger control.
Prosecutors also must look at the crime involved. If weapons or a victim are involved, it is much more difficult to have one placed into veterans court.
The program is voluntary. You must be willing to engage in their services. If you elect to not enter the program, then your case will be return to the traditional courts for prosecution.
The next question is whether the veterans court is available? These courts are becoming more available throughout Maricopa County. But at the moment, there are still only a few programs. As noted above, the program in the Maricopa County Superior Court is a function of probation. However, individual city courts may have their own program. At the moment, the City of Phoenix has its own program. Additional veteran court programs are also available through the East Valley Regional Veterans Court (this includes cases from the city courts of Chandler, Carefree-Cave Creek, Fountain Hills, Gilbert, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Tempe).
For informative details about the purpose, methods, and operations of veterans courts, please visit one of these websites for a useful description of what veterans courts do.
Arizona’s Veterans Courts – Information Links by Region
East Valley Regional Veterans Court Website:
Coconino County Superior Court Veterans Court
Kingman Veterans CourtWebsite:
Lake Havasu City Consolidated Court Veterans Court:
Mesa Municipal Veterans Court: http://www.mesaaz.gov(link is external)
Phoenix Municipal Court Veterans Court:
Pima County Justice Court Veterans Court:www.jp.pima.gov(link is external)
Tucson Municipal and Regional Municipalities Veterans Court:
There is no guarantee that you will be permitted to enter veterans court. And, veterans court may or may not be your best option to resolving your case. If you are a veteran and facing criminal charges, please contact experienced counsel that can advise you on all the issues you may face.
I am a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist. If you or anyone you know has been accused of any felony or misdemeanor, please call for a free strategy session at 602.899-1596, email me at Howard@SnaderLawGroup.com or visit https://www.SnaderLawGroup.com.