Are you a military veteran or active-duty service member of the U.S. Armed Forces who has been arrested or charged with a crime in California? If so, and you are suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse problems caused by your military service, you may be able to seek treatment as an alternative to facing criminal penalties. This opportunity is made available thanks to California’s military diversion program.
Lamano Law Office is a woman-owned and operated criminal defense firm in Oakland, CA. Our compassionate legal team understands how difficult it is to face criminal charges while dealing with mental health issues and/or substance abuse challenges. We take great pride in representing the rights and interests of veterans and service members whose experiences while serving our nation have caused them harm.
Reach out to Lamano Law Office today for an initial case evaluation with one of our Oakland criminal defense attorneys. We will discuss your eligibility for the military diversion program in California specifically, and your legal situation generally. Once we’ve provided you with an objective assessment of your legal options, you can make informed choices about how best to move forward. Criminal charges are serious, but you don’t have to face them alone. We’re here to help.
What Is Military Diversion?
The state’s military diversion opportunity is a program established under California Penal Code 1001.80. It provides a sentencing alternative for veterans and active-duty military personnel who suffer from psychological problems as a result of their service, such as mental health illnesses, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and/or substance addiction and abuse. Instead of being convicted and sentenced to incarceration, probation, or other penalties, an individual admitted to military diversion instead receives treatment for their mental health or substance abuse issues. Upon successful completion of the military diversion opportunity, the record of your arrest and the charges against you will be wiped clean, save for any attempt that you may make to apply as a peace officer.
Who Qualifies for Military Diversion?
To qualify for military diversion, a defendant must meet various requirements, including that they:
- Are a veteran or active-duty service member of the U.S. Armed Forces
- Have been accused of a misdemeanor or a felony that is a wobbler than can be reduced to a misdemeanor
- Suffer from PSTD, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, or mental health issues resulting from their military service
Simply meeting these requirements is not enough to enter a diversion program. You must also be able to prove to the trial court that you are eligible, which may require military service records and medical documentation.
Types of Cases That Meet Military Diversion Eligibility Requirements
Military diversion is only made available for veterans and service members who have been accused of misdemeanor offenses under California law, or felony offenses that are wobblers and can be reduced to a misdemeanor charge. Examples of misdemeanor charges that can be resolved through military diversion include:
Certain crimes may be prosecuted as either felonies or misdemeanors in California, depending on the circumstances of the case. Consequently, our firm may need to argue down the charges against you before you can qualify for military diversion if the offense that you’ve been charged with is a “wobbler.”
How Does Military Diversion Work?
Courts only grant military diversion upon request from a defendant or their legal counsel. When a court receives a request for admission to military diversion, it may order an assessment to determine if that defendant is eligible for military diversion. This means that you will be given a future court date while this eligibility is made. This eligibility inquiry may involve confirming that the defendant suffers from a qualifying condition and that condition is connected to their military service. Your criminal defense attorney can help prepare you for eligibility by guiding you in what paperwork you will need to provide to the court or the independent party making the assessment.
A defendant who is granted military diversion is not required to plead no contest or not guilty. Instead, upon admission to military diversion, the trial court will suspend proceedings in the case while the defendant receives treatment for their underlying mental health or substance abuse issues. The military diversion program can last up to two years, although most defendants complete the program within 18 months. During that time, you will need to attend progress reports in court to show you are in compliance with the military diversion program.
If a defendant successfully completes treatment under military diversion, their charges are dismissed by the court and you may be eligible to clean up your arrest record. The defendant may legally answer no in response to questions about prior criminal convictions on applications for private employment, housing, or educational programs. The only exception to this rule involves applying for a position as a peace officer because an arrest record for your crime is still available to the Department of Justice which is accessible by government agencies like local police departments, the CIA, FBI, etc.
The trial court can terminate a defendant’s military diversion at any point upon receiving unsatisfactory progress reports from a defendant’s treatment care team. If a defendant fails to successfully complete military diversion, their criminal case will resume, and they can be subject to conviction and criminal penalties.
What Treatment Plans Are Available through Military Diversion?
The nature of a defendant’s treatment plan under military diversion will depend upon the underlying conditions that led to their admission to the program. Treatment plans can involve mental therapy, behavioral therapy, substance abuse treatment, and educational classes. The terms and conditions of a treatment plan might include:
- Attending regular substance abuse or behavioral treatment meetings
- Meeting with a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist
- Submitting to regular and/or random drug/alcohol testing
- Being subject to regular progress reports from treating providers
A trial court will decide whether a defendant should undergo a federal or locally based treatment plan. In choosing a federal plan, the trial court will typically order a defendant to participate in programs that are designed for treating veterans and active service members and are either sponsored by or collaborate with the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A trial court will only direct a defendant to seek treatment with a county-based local health agency if the agency consents to oversee the defendant’s treatment, coordinate with veterans’ service managers, and file reports with the court.
How Will My DMV Record Be Affected by Military Diversion?
If you were charged with an offense that resulted in the California DMV suspending or revoking your driver’s license, your successful completion of military diversion will not automatically restore your driving privileges. The court and the DMV are separate entities. You will need to go through the DMV’s administrative procedures for reinstating your driver’s license after completing military diversion.
What Is Veterans Treatment Court?
Military diversion is only available for misdemeanor offenses. However, military veterans who are charged with a felony may have the option of resolving their charges through veterans treatment court, which is a program available in several counties in California.
Like military diversion, veterans court programs are designed to offer veterans the option of treating mental health or substance abuse issues caused by their military service in lieu of criminal conviction and subsequent penalties. However, compared to military diversion, veterans courts provide far greater structure and supervision. Some veterans court programs offer post-conviction diversion, meaning that a defendant is accepted into a given program only after they have been convicted of a crime.
Eligibility for veterans court is generally conditioned on having been convicted of a low-level, non-violent offense and on having no prior felony “strikes” on your record under California’s three-strikes law. However, some counties’ veterans courts have been known to make exceptions to these requirements.
If you are accepted into veterans court, your participation in the program will be overseen by a group of stakeholders, including the trial judge presiding over your case, the prosecutor, your attorney, and a caseworker from the Department of Veterans Affairs. These individuals will design a treatment plan to address your underlying mental health and/or substance abuse issues and will monitor your progress. You will also be expected to continue making court appearances as required by the trial judge.
If you successfully complete your treatment plan, the trial court will discharge your conviction pursuant to California Penal Code 1170.9, a statute that authorizes post-conviction treatment in lieu of sentencing for military veterans suffering from mental health or substance abuse problems. However, if you fail to complete treatment, the trial court can sentence you per your original conviction.
How Our Oakland Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You
Applying for admission to military diversion or a veterans court is not always an easy process. These programs have strict eligibility requirements, and you must also show that you suffer from a mental health or substance abuse issue that was caused by your military service. At Lamano Law Office, we strive to give our eligible clients the best chance at admittance to diversion programs. Let us help you pursue your options in military diversion or veterans court by:
- Reviewing the facts of your case to confirm your eligibility
- Gathering evidence that demonstrates that you suffer from PTSD or mental health or substance abuse issues related to your military service, including medical records from your treatment and testimony from your healthcare providers
- Ensuring you understand the best- and worst-case scenarios when entering diversion programs and what will be expected of you if you are admitted to the program
- Advocating on your behalf in court to fight for your acceptance to the program
- Offering caring assistance to help you successfully complete your treatment plan and have your case dismissed or discharged
If you have been arrested or convicted for a crime and believe that you may be eligible for military diversion or veteran’s court, contact Lamano Law Office today to schedule a confidential consultation. Our Oakland criminal defense attorneys look forward to speaking with you and to advocating on behalf of your rights and interests.