What is Utah’s Veterans Court?
Veterans Court refers to a “diversionary program” that can help veterans with mental health issues seek treatment to help them from committing further crimes. Many crimes stem from an individual’s struggles with mental health, especially for veterans. Veterans Court seeks to help offenders deal with the mental health issues with the simultaneous goal of keeping the public safe by reducing recidivism. If you are a veteran charged with a crime, keep reading to learn about taking advantage of Veterans Court in Salt Lake City from our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer at Overson Law.
How Does Veterans Court Work in Utah?
Veterans Court is not a specific courthouse or location like most courts. Instead, Veterans Court is a “diversionary program” designed as an intervention that stops offenders from going through the normal criminal justice system. Instead, veterans seek mental health care and other help from the Veterans Court, which includes treatment aimed at reducing further involvement in crime.
Many defendants enter the program as part of a plea agreement. Defendants will plead guilty to the charges against them, but their plea will not be formally entered. Instead, the defendant participates in Veterans Court. Upon successfully completing the program, your guilty plea is withdrawn, and your charges are dropped or reduced. Failure to complete the program results in your guilty plea being entered and a sentence being issued.
Many veterans suffer from mental health issues related to the trauma of their experiences. Some issues, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are directly related to their time in the armed services, but others may develop independently of their experiences. Veterans Court seeks to help with many of these issues by providing access to mental health care professionals in conjunction with the VA and Veterans Hospitals.
The Veterans Court is very similar to the Mental Health Court and is modeled after it. Under that system, offenders with serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorders apply for the court and seek treatment instead of jail time.
By providing offenders with mental health care, Veterans Court can help prevent further offenses. Many veterans seek out criminal activity either as a direct result of their mental illness or because of the isolation and difficulty that their disorder causes. The Veterans Court seeks to fight that and help keep veterans away from further crime.
Applying to Veterans Court in Utah
The process for applying to Veterans Court is not easy to find information on. Working with an attorney is incredibly helpful to ensure that you not only meet the requirements for Veterans Court but also that you follow ongoing requirements to ensure that your case is accepted to the Veterans Court.
As with most diversionary programs, you may be required to enter a guilty plea as part of your application to Veterans Court. Your guilty plea will not be officially entered by the court, however. Instead, your plea is held in abeyance, which means it is set aside or put on hold until you complete the Veterans Court program. Upon completion, your charges will be reduced or dropped.
This plea serves multiple important purposes in the Veterans Court system. First, it shows that your concern is not with your guilt or innocence, but with getting the help you need. This process is long and will be a challenge for many applicants. This leads to the second purpose of the plea deal: assurance. If you fail to follow the requirements set by the Veterans Court, the prosecution can enter your guilty plea and send your case back to court for traditional sentencing. Ultimately, this can mean facing jail or prison instead of getting the help you need.
Eligibility for Veterans Court in Utah
To qualify for Veterans Court, you must have committed a qualifying crime. Utah’s Veterans Court is a felony-level diversion program. Only offenders charged with felonies will be eligible to participate. Many seriously violent crimes like murder or manslaughter may not be eligible for Veterans Court. In addition, many DUI cases and sex crimes are simply not the kind of crime that the Veterans Court is equipped to deal with. Speaking with a South Jordan criminal defense lawyer is the best way to figure out if Veterans Court is a viable option for you.
There may also be medical requirements that apply to your application. To qualify, you usually must have a mental disorder that the court is equipped to work with. Many courts accept applicants with personality disorders and may accept PTSD cases. However, some courts are not equipped to help individuals with mental disorders stemming from brain injuries and other physical trauma. Whether you can participate in Veterans Court will depend on whether the program is capable of meeting your needs.
While undergoing treatment, it is expected that you refrain from further crime. Any time that you are involved in a process like Veterans Court, Mental Health Court, or probation, one of the terms of the program will be that you do not commit any additional crimes. Failing to remain crime-free can mean ending your time with the Veterans Court and sending you back to jail.
It is important to work with a Park City criminal defense attorney who can help guide you through the requirements not only to apply to the program but also to stay in the program and complete it successfully.
Who is Involved in Veterans Court in Utah?
Veterans Court is comprised of many different people, all working for the benefit of the participant. The most important person involved in Veterans Court is the participant themself. The program is entirely voluntary, so a judge cannot put a defendant through traffic court without the defendant’s consent. Veterans Court programs cannot commence without the consent of the participant.
The legal team behind Veterans Court consists of the judge, a defense attorney, a prosecutor, and an assigned Veterans Administration outreach specialist. It is also common for the program to have a probation officer, veteran mentor, and police officers working with the participant.
The prosecutor and defender work as two sides of the same coin. The prosecutor is working to ensure that the participant is rehabilitated to prevent any further harm to the community. The defender is working to ensure the participant receives the best treatment possible under the Veterans Court program and successfully completes the program while also protecting their legal rights. The judge supervises the entire process and can admonish or punish the participant for failing to stay on track and praise and reward them for making progress.
Depending on the participant’s needs, other Veterans Court team members can include treatment providers, probation officers, and a veteran mentor to keep the participant on track to complete the program. Veterans Court requires quite a few people to keep the program operational. There are many different people all working for the treatment and rehabilitation of the participant.
How Long Will I Be in Utah’s Veterans Court Program?
Exactly how long it will take you to complete the Veterans Court program will depend on your charges and specific mental health needs. Participants with relatively minor charges and more manageable needs might finish a bit quicker. However, if your charges are more severe and you have much more significant mental health needs, you might spend a longer time in the program.
At a minimum, the Veterans Court program will take 18 months to complete. However, the average completion time for participants is around 20-24 months. Veterans Court is not an easy way out of your criminal charges. It is a major commitment and will take months, if not years until you are finished.
Exactly how your experience with Veterans Court plays out may vary depending on what county or district in Utah you are in. One example of Veterans Court in action can be found in the Salt Lake County Third District Court. This Veterans Court program is divided into five phases.
Phase 1: Acute Stabilization
The first phase of Veterans Court takes about 60 days to complete. This phase starts when the veteran participant enters a guilty plea and signs the Veterans Court agreement. During this phase, a participant is required to check in regularly with the court to discuss the participant’s progress in the program. The participant must cooperate with treatment requirements and supervision requirements, including drug and alcohol testing and visits with treatment providers and program supervisors.
Phase 2: Clinical Stabilization
This phase takes about 120 days to complete. At this point, a participant’s treatment plan will be individualized to suit their specific needs. To complete the second phase of Veteran’s Court, a participant must continue to adhere to all the requirements of their treatment plan, submit to drug testing, and continue making regular appearances in court.
Phase 3: Personal Enhancement
This is the longest phase of Veteran’s Court and takes about 180 days to complete. While maintaining compliance with treatment and court requirements, the participant must also select a community service project or activity to work on. The participant must also maintain regular contact with supervisors and treatment providers and make regular appearances in court.
Phase 4: Community Re-Engagement
The fourth phase of Veterans Court takes about 90 days to finish. The purpose of this phase to prepare the participant to re-enter their community more stable and crime-free. The participant may go through job training, parenting courses or other family support programs, and vocational courses in addition to the previous requirements of continuing treatment and court appearances. Your unique needs determine the type of training and education courses you receive.
Phase 5: Continuing Care
The fifth and final phase of Utah’s Veterans Court requires about 90 days to finish. A participant is still required to maintain their treatment program and any regular visits with supervisors and treatment providers. However, at this phase, a participant must show that they are capable of living a crime-free and drug-free lifestyle without the Veterans Court’s support.
Your personal experience with Veterans Court may differ depending upon your unique treatment needs and the court your case is heard in. Generally, participants can expect a lengthy commitment to the program and regular visits from supervisors and treatment providers. Failure to comply with any Veterans Court program’s rules can result in your guilty plea being entered and you could be sent to prison or jail.
Salt Lake City Veterans Court Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one is a veteran that has been charged with a crime, talk to an attorney about Veterans Court. The Utah criminal defense lawyers at Overson Law may be able to help you apply to Veterans Court and avoid jail time for your offense by getting you the help you need with mental health disorders and other treatment to prevent re-offending. For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (801) 758-2287.