It is not uncommon for PTSD to be a contributing factor in a crime committed by a veteran. “A new VA study finds that Veterans with PTSD—compared to those without—are about 60% more likely than Veterans without PTSD to have justice-system involvement.” Researchers haven’t found a conclusive link but typically point to the theory that individuals that have experienced traumatic events that have produced negative effects have a higher propensity to commit a crime. Some medical professionals are encouraging further research into the connection between veteran’s mental health conditions and criminal justice involvement. This will subsequently improve veteran’s defense and veteran’s treatment programs within the criminal justice system. The VA has found that many Veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Gulf War, and Vietnam have experienced PTSD at some point. Understanding this mental health disorder and its relation to the criminal justice system is a critical issue for the VA.
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In 2008, various U.S. agencies, Veteran advocacy groups, and community organizations convened to discuss ways to decrease veterans’ involvement with the court system and provide them with the mental health treatment they need. As a result, the Veteran’s Treatment Court was formed.
The goal of the Veteran’s treatment court is to provide Veterans with treatment and tools for rehabilitation and adjusting to society rather than the traditional punitive measures. Each Veterans Treatment Court is a sub-part of the community’s justice system but does typically form partnerships with the VA and other Veteran’s organizations.
A Veteran’s Trauma Court exists to help veterans with treatment, therapy, and reintegration into society. It is modeled after drug courts. The goal is to help the Veteran and the greater society. The Veterans Trauma Court does not excuse the Veteran’s crime, but rather addresses the reasons for the crime so the veteran does not have repeated criminal behavior. “Often, veterans treatment courts have a more stringent probationary period than traditional courts. These probationary periods often include random drug and alcohol testing, and veterans who fail to abide by the terms of probation are diverted to a regular court docket.”
The court system will use evidence, screening, and assessments to determine whether the veteran should be referred to the Veterans Trauma Court. Various individuals can refer the veteran to Veterans Trauma court including probation officers, public defenders, the veteran’s defense lawyer, judges, or a Veterans’ Outreach Specialist (VJO). VJO specialists are “responsible for direct outreach, assessment, and case management for justice-involved veterans in local courts and jails and liaison with local justice system partners.”
Once a Veteran qualifies for Veterans Treatment Court, her or she will participate in a court-supervised treatment plan with a court-appointed team of the specialist whose goal is to help the veteran navigate the court system and get the help they need. All parties involved will collaborate to assist the Veteran with acquiring resources from federal organizations and other organizations that can offer help and support. If a Veteran successfully completes his or her treatment plan, he or she may avoid jail or prison time or have charges dismissed.
Studies have found Veterans Trauma Courts to be highly successful. An Ohio study concluded that the tendency of the convicted Veteran to re-offend was only 10%. Studies have also found success in moving Veterans to stable housing and enrolling the Veteran in school or training programs.
Ohio currently has 28 Veterans Trauma Courts with more continuously being added. Ohio has also passed a law requiring every judge to view a defendant Veteran’s military background and consider the implication on whether it should be a mitigating factor in sentencing. “This new statute helps to raise the court’s awareness that military background can be considered.”
If you are a veteran and are involved in a criminal matter, it is important to work with an attorney that is experienced with veterans issues and the Veterans Trauma Court. Working with an attorney is crucial to get into Veterans Trauma Court and create the best defense.
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The process to charge someone that’s been accused of a crime begins with an arrest. If the police have reason to believe that someone has committed a crime, the accused can be taken into custody. Police will usually start by asking basic questions like name and address to identify a person, and then they’ll often pivot to more specific questions related to the incident. At some point during this, you should have been read your “Miranda warnings.”
You have the right to remain silent to avoid disclosing evidence that could potentially be self-incriminating, as well as the right to an attorney to defend you in court. Those are your unwavering rights that must be recited upon taking someone into custody. Take note of when these rights are read to you, as it could be helpful information for your attorney.
When you’ve been taken down to the station, police will fingerprint you and get your photograph to update their records. Once this is done, you should be granted the opportunity to contact your criminal defense lawyer. If you don’t have a lawyer, get a loved one to book a consultation with a lawyer on your behalf. It’s important that you do NOT disclose any details about your case over the phone with your loved ones, as those calls are monitored.
After you’ve made it through the booking process, the police may begin conducting their investigation with you. Depending on the situation, this might include a personal search, collecting samples, interviewing/interrogating, police lineups, etc.
You’ll be held at the station until you can be brought before a judge. The initial court appearance will happen within 48 hours or less of the arrest. Here, the judge will review the case and decide if there’s any reason to keep you in holding or if bail can be granted. If bail is granted, you’re allowed to be released upon certain conditions.
Depending on the seriousness of your allegations, you may have a preliminary hearing at which a judge can determine whether enough evidence exists to charge you with that level of crime. You’ll be able to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” If you plead not guilty, your case will be sent to trial. You may get the opportunity to enter a plea deal. That’s something your attorney will advise you on.
In the discovery stage, the case against you is made much more transparent. The prosecutor will share the evidence they have against you with your defense attorney. During this time, your attorney can make additional requests for evidence if need be. All of the evidence on the table will be considered, and your lawyer will work with you to form the best plan for your defense.
If a plea deal is unable to be reached, the case will enter trial. During the trial, the prosecutor begins by presenting the case to the jury. They share any evidence they have against you and have witnesses make their statements for the prosecution. This can be tough to sit through. Afterward, it’s your lawyer’s turn to take the stands and share your side of the story. Your lawyer can question the prosecutor’s witnesses and all of the evidence that was used against you. There are many different strategies that your lawyer will use to defend you during the trial.
In a best-case scenario, you will have been found not guilty by the end of the trial, and the charges against you have been dropped. If you are found guilty, the judge must determine what your sentence/penalties will be. The sentencing will happen at another hearing, usually a few weeks after your trial ends.
There are many possible signs that someone might be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of the most common include:
PTSD is not considered an excuse for criminal behavior, but if someone who suffers from PTSD commits a crime, this medical diagnosis is often an important factor during a court hearing, as well as when determining any jail time or other sentence.
If you break any of the terms of Veterans Trauma Court you run the risk of being removed from the program and returned to the regular court system.
We have successfully represented clients across Northern Ohio. If you are facing criminal charges, we can help you too. Don’t delay. The district attorney is building their case against you right now.
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