New Bill May Allow Veterans to Seek Treatment for DUI Under Military Diversion Program

New Bill May Allow Veterans to Seek Treatment for DUI Under Military Diversion Program

When military servicemen and servicewomen return from active duty it can be difficult to settle back into their day-to-day lives. Many veterans suffer from emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of their participation in violent conflicts abroad. Coping with these raw emotions can be tough. As a result, many veterans turn to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in the number of veterans who are arrested for drunk driving each year.

In 2015, California designed and implemented a Military Diversion program. The program was an offshoot of the California Veteran’s Treatment Court. The Veteran’s Treatment Court requires a veteran accused of a crime to go through a lengthy legal process, enter a guilty plea, and complete a treatment program in return for a dismissal of all charges. The Military Diversion program is essentially a streamlined version of the Veteran’s Treatment Court. The program allows eligible veterans who are accused of certain misdemeanor offenses to enter a supervised treatment program without going through the entire traditional criminal justice process. This gets veterans into much-needed treatment nearly one year earlier than the Veteran’s Treatment Court would allow. One year can be essential to the well-being of a veteran who is afflicted with serious mental and substance abuse conditions.

Whether or not DUIs qualify for the Military Diversion program, however, has been a hotly contested issue in California. The Military Diversion program legislation is silent on the issue. As a result, courts have been forced to determine whether a specific DUI offense qualifies on a case-by-case basis. The increase in military veteran drunk driving arrests has prompted several California lawmakers to take action. Senate Bill 725, which recently passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee, revises the Military Diversion program so that it explicitly includes drunk driving and drugged driving offenses.

Proponents of the bill argue that it is important to ensure that our veterans receive the treatment and care they need in a timely manner. While the Veteran’s Treatment Court does offer alternatives to more traditional criminal penalties, it takes time. This is time that could be used for the treatment of serious mental and substance abuse issues. It is important to understand that imposing traditional criminal penalties may do more harm than good. Getting these afflicted vets into treatment programs as soon as possible is the best solution.

The results of the Military Diversion program speak volumes. Over the past year and a half, 21 veterans have completed the Military Diversion program offered in San Diego County. One-third of those veterans were enrolled in the program for DUI-related offenses. Statistics show that the recidivism rate of program graduates is 20 percent. This is an astounding accomplishment, mostly because the recidivism rate in the more traditional justice system is closer to 70 percent. The fact that so many veterans are showing progress after treatment is an important piece of information. California lawmakers who champion Senate Bill 725 point to these success stories as support for officially expanding the scope of the Military Diversion program to include DUIs.

There are, of course, opponents to the legislation. Many argue that allowing veterans to escape any criminal liability for misdemeanor DUIs could lead to a “revolving door” for repeat DUI offenders. This, they claim, could pose a serious threat to public safety. Opponents would rather leave the issue to the discretion of the court. However, under Senate Bill 725, the court does maintain a degree of discretion. A court must still approve applications for the diversion program. If a veteran demonstrates an unwillingness to change his or her behavior, the court can reject their application.

Allowing eligible veterans who are arrested for misdemeanor DUI offenses to enroll in the Military Diversion program has many benefits. Many veterans are struggling with demons and need treatment to help get them back on the correct path. It is important to note that even with the new legislation’s broadened scope, veterans must still meet all eligibility requirements and have an application for the program approved by the court. Senate Bill 725 merely makes it possible for all veteran DUI offenders to apply to the diversion program.

For more information, call San Diego Military Defense Attorneys today for a free consultation.