Justia Lawyer Rating
Best Attorneys of America
Super Lawyers
Superior DUI Attorney 2017
10 Best Law Firms
Top One Percent 2017
The National Trial Lawyers
Best of Thervo 2017
10 Best Law Firms
Criminal Defense Attorneys

What Is Veterans Court? Who Is Eligible? How Does It Work?

Veterans Court is a post-plea program crafted to recognize the relationship between those who have committed certain felony criminal offenses due to mental or psychological disorders they acquired as a result of service to our county.  For example, a veteran may suffer from PTSD due to combat experiences and then, as a result of the PTSD, often yells loudly in public while having a flashback, violating Penal Code § 415, disturbing the peace.
In a Nutshell:  Veteran’s Court is a specific department or division within an existing courthouse where a qualified veteran (someone suffering from a 10% or higher service-related mental or psychological disability, including drug or alcohol addiction), after a no contest or guilty plea, can earn a dismissal by successfully completing a rehabilitation-focused program between 18 months and five years supervised by a judge and a rehabilitation facility, rather than serve custody time in jail or prison.
The goal of the program is to afford residential or outpatient treatment to such veterans suffering from documented service-related disorders instead of prison and, if the veteran successfully completes the rehabilitative program, to allow the veteran to withdraw his plea and the judge to dismiss the case in the interests of justice (California Penal Code § 1385).

Put another way, it is a really good deal for a veteran looking at prison.  Instead of prison, the individual can earn a dismissal and receive court-monitored treatment, usually through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs at one of their hospitals, even if the hospital or treatment facility is outside Los Angeles County.

More importantly, it is a “life line” of sorts for someone who may otherwise lose his or her VA benefits if he or she actually serves more than sixty or ninety days in prison (often through county jail).

CCB CourthouseCCB Courthouse

A qualified veteran must be documented as having a 10% or more service-related mental or psychological disorder such as PTSD, sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury (TBI), substance abuse issues or other mental health issues related to service to our country.
In our experience, the veteran must present his DD-214 discharge paperwork as well as a medical diagnosis, usually in his final medical examination.  The individual must also be entitled to veteran’s benefits, which means he cannot have a bad conduct discharge (BCD).

The felony criminal conduct at issue must then have some causal connection or link to the service-related disability.  For example, if someone has a 20 percent service-related disability for PTSD, the veteran’s attorney (or an expert) must establish that the cause of the criminal conduct, or a contributing factor, was the service-related mental or psychological disability.

This can be easy if for example, the service related disability is alcohol abuse, characterized by binge drinking, and the veteran is charged with felony DUI.  This can be difficult when, for example, a veteran with the same disability is charged with felony embezzlement and alcohol is not involved at all.

Veterans Court is administered through designated judges in only certain courthouses.  In Los Angeles County, it is only available right now through the Downtown Los Angeles, at CCB, in Department 42 with Judge Michael Tynan and in Long Beach Superior Court, in Department 12 with Judge Marcelita Haynes.

Not every veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces is eligible.  The charges may only be for non-violent, non-serious felony offense and who have no prior strikes (certain convictions for serious or violent felonies) and are not a registered sex offender under Penal Code § 290.

In addition, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs must complete a suitability evaluation of any veteran who seeks to avail himself of this program.

Once accepted to the program, the veteran is ordered by the judge to the supervision of the VA, which will then customize a program for each participant.  The expenses of the program are mostly paid for through the veteran’s veterans benefits. 

The program lasts a minimum of eighteen months, but can stretch out to five years.  The program is extremely small, usually totaling only 75 to 100 participants in all of Los Angeles County at any one time.
The judge will hold periodic progress hearings on the veteran’s progress and, when the veteran finishes the program, will have a graduation ceremony accompanying the dismissal of the case.

For more information about issues involving veterans, please click on the following articles:
  1. Sentencing Alternatives for Military Veterans under Penal Code § 1170.9
  2. Diversion Programs in California for Armed Forces Veterans
  3. Is Diversion Available for Veterans in a DUI? Yes
Contact us.

Client Reviews
"Thank you so much for putting so much effort in this case. We really appreciate it and we are happy that all turned out well." S.A., Torrance
"Greg Hill did an outstanding job on every level. He was efficient, thorough, knowledgeable, courteous, responsive & brilliant. He welcomed my input and my concerns. . . from the first conversation to the last - I always felt 'it mattered' to him." S.C., Rolling Hills Estates
"Thanks again for your hard work. We want you to know that we are very appreciative of all that you have done [on our son's] behalf. With warmest regards." L.H., Torrance
"Dear Greg, Thank you again for all your help. Your professionalism and thoroughness is greatly admired. I will definitely recommend you to my friends if they ever need legal help." V.L., Carson
"Thanks for investing in my case. I talked to other attorneys out there and they had an arms-length of attitude, but not you. Your intensity and interest helped a lot." C.R., Pomona