Veterans Court is the rehabilitative option for military members charged with a crime.
What is Veteran’s Court?
In response to an increase in criminal activity involving a select group of service members, Veterans Court in Okaloosa County was established. Veterans Court is specifically designed for service members who have gotten arrested after experiencing combat related mental health issues. A vast majority of service members entering the criminal system have suffered from mental health, substance abuse, combat related PTSD, cognitive functioning issues or traumatic brain injury as a result of their military service. Veterans Court is a diversion program for service members that have been exposed to elements during their service that have led them to the criminal court system.
Upon qualification, a service member can enter Veterans Court where they will receive counseling, career focused alternatives, treatment specific to the individual service member’s needs and medical assistance where needed. Veterans Court is a voluntary 12-18 month program that results in dismissal of the service member’s charges upon completion of the program. Veteran’s Court is designed to be rehabilitative rather than punitive.
How did Veteran’s Court start?
Senate Bill 138 was enacted in July, 2012 and Veterans Court began serving military members charged with crimes. Okaloosa County Judge T. Patterson Maney was instrumental in the enactment of this bill and as a result the Veterans Court initiative has been named the T. Patterson Maney Veterans’ Treatment Intervention Act. Due to his extensive military experience, **UPDATE**Judge Maney was the presiding Judge over Veterans Court for Okaloosa County until his retirement in 2018. The Honorable Angela Mason currently presides over Veteran’s Court. Veterans Court operates under Florida Statute §394.47891.
How can I qualify for Veteran’s Court?
Any person who has been charged with a crime, other than the crimes listed in Florida Statute §948.06(8)(c) that has been identified as a current service member, a former service member who has served in combat related zones suffering from PTSD, substance abuse disorder, traumatic brain injury or psychological problems as a result of the combat service is eligible. The qualification process involves the service member’s referral to the Veterans Court Coordinator’s office for their county. The coordinator’s office will evaluate the criminal case, the service member’s medical and military file and conduct a psychological interview of the service member. Based on the information provided, the coordinator will determine eligibility for entrance into Veterans Court.
There is an extensive list of qualifying offenses that will keep you from entry in to Veteran’s Court. For a complete list see Florida Statute §948.06(8)(c).
DUI cases are included in the ineligibility list; however, Flaherty & Merrifield has been successful in admission to Veterans Court for some of our Okaloosa County clients charged with DUI.
If I am eligible, will Veterans Court save my military career?
The military reviews every charge on a case by case basis. It has been my experience that service members who entered and completed Veterans Court were able to save their military career because the program allowed for complete dismissal of the charges.
If I am eligible, will my charges be dismissed?
Yes. Provided you complete the program as directed, your charges will be dismissed at the conclusion of Veterans Court.
I was accepted to Veterans Court; does that mean I automatically get in?
Unfortunately, no. Just because you have met the criteria for Veterans Court and have been accepted does not mean you are automatically entered into the program. In some cases, the criminal charge that you were arrested for may disqualify you for a Veterans Court Diversion. In other cases the nature of the arrest or your actions while engaged with law enforcement could prevent your entry into the program.
Once you have been accepted into Veterans Court it is my job to ensure you are able to enter the program. Acceptance and meeting the Veterans Court criteria is not the only step you must take. In addition to acceptance, the State Attorney prosecuting your case must approve your entry to the program. The next step after the State’s acceptance is the presiding Judge allowing your entry.
What can Flaherty & Merrifield do to get me into Veterans Court?
I will work with you to secure your entry into the program. I will review all aspects of your case to determine whether or not success at trial is an option. I will evaluate the details of your case to persuade the State Attorney to reduce or dismiss the charges against you. I will explore your military background in connection with the charges and Veterans Court eligibility to influence your acceptance. In short, I will take actions necessary to protect your future.
If you are a service member or former service member and have been charged with a crime, please do not hesitate, contact me today. Since 2001, I have been serving military personnel like you in Okaloosa County. I understand the challenges you face to save your career and I know how to combat the charges you are facing. Each military client presents a set of unique circumstances and no two cases are alike. Trust your defense to a firm that knows how to embrace your unique circumstances and help you put the pieces back together.
You have fought for us. Now I will fight for you. It would be my honor to defend you and protect your future.
If you or a loved one are a service member or former service member charged with a crime in Fort Walton Beach, call Flaherty & Merrifield at (850) 243-6097 for a free, confidential case review.