In 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Veterans Diversion Program (California Penal Code §1001.80). This law permits veterans or current members of the military who are suffering from a service-related mental health issue to escape criminal liability for misdemeanor offenses in exchange for participation in a pretrial diversion program. The program has been largely hailed as a positive and effective reform by veterans groups.
The program is an option when the following three elements are met:
- The defendant is a veteran or active-duty member of the military;
- The defendant is charged with a misdemeanor (the program does not apply to felonies); and
- The defendant suffers from a service-related mental health issue.
Under CPC §1001.80(a)(2), the following conditions may be considered:
- Sexual trauma;
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI);
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Substance abuse; or
- Mental health problems as a result of his or her military service.
Importantly there is a presumption that a mental health problem is service related, and even if the underlying problem was preexisting, the program may still apply if military service exacerbated it.
Should You Participate in the Diversion Program?
This program is a terrific option for many veterans and military personnel who are charged with a misdemeanor. It is a pretrial program, and when it is successfully completed, the charges are dropped. Moreover, once the program is successfully completed, "The arrest upon which the diversion was based shall be deemed to have never occurred," per §1001.80(i). The exception to this is that a record of the arrest will be made with the United States Department of Justice, and the arrest will be made known to peace officers upon request, per §1001.80(j).
The length of the diversion program varies, depending on the defendant's prior record and the underlying offense, but the maximum length is two years. If it appears to the court that a defendant is performing unsatisfactorily or is not benefiting from the program, this option can be revoked and regular criminal proceedings will resume.
Although this program is usually a great choice, it may not be the best route to take for everyone. For instance, a defendant may choose to simply plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor and pay a fine rather than go through the diversion program. A defendant who has a strong case may choose to go to trial to try to be found not guilty. The offense, the evidence, and the defendant's prior record are all factors to consider.
Contact a California Criminal Defense Attorney with Questions
If you are a veteran or an active-duty member of the military and have been charged with a misdemeanor crime, it is important to consider the California Veterans Diversion Program as a viable option. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can help you understand whether taking advantage of this diversion program is possible for you and whether it is in your best interests. If you would like to discuss your case, please call the Law Offices of Scott D. Hughes at 714-423-6928 for a free consultation.