Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Court Launches Bid to Help Veterans Charged With Nonviolent Offenses
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday launched a pilot program offering counseling and medical treatment, in lieu of incarceration, to veterans charged with committing nonviolent offenses.
Presiding Judge—and former Marine—Charles W. “Tim” McCoy called commencement of the Veteran’s Court a “heartwarming moment in our court’s history,” citing the emotional toll that military service has taken on many who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.
“We understand that there are wounds that can be carried that aren’t always physical and are not something for which we award the Purple Heart, but nevertheless have an impact on people’s hearts for a lifetime,” McCoy said.
The program, which is a collaborative effort between the court, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Alternate Public Defender’s Office and the Department of Veterans Affairs, will allow participants to have their guilty pleas set aside and their cases dismissed after completing their designated mental health and substance abuse treatment plans.
Assistant District Attorney Jacquelyn Lacey explained that the program is based on the premise that “sometimes a criminal act is a symptom of a larger problem.” She commented that many veterans volunteered to be in the military and “are law abiding people for the most part,” but some come back from their tours of duty with substance abuse or mental health problems and find their way into the criminal justice system.
Judge Peter Espinoza, supervising judge of the criminal courts, told the MetNews yesterday that he was “very excited about the prospect of providing services to this unique and special population of criminal defendants who have served their country and now need to be served.”
Deputy Public Defender Joanne Rotstein, who oversees treatment programs for the office, remarked that “we’ve got a lot of vets coming through the courthouse and they don’t get the assistance that they need, or they don’t get enough,” predicting that this new program “will really help.”
All military personnel who qualify for veteran’s benefits are eligible to participate in the program, which is based on the Drug Court model and a similar Veteran’s Court offered in Orange County, subject to the approval of each of the sponsoring organizations, Rotstein said.
Participants will be subject to “constant and continuing monitoring of the court” in addition to residential or intensive outpatient treatment, which “provides more flexible and realistic options for what these guys and gals have gone through,” Rotstein opined.
She said that the program was designed to take up to 50 cases, and the four veterans who have agreed to participate so far appeared before Judge Michael Tynan at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center yesterday.
Rotstein added that Tynan, a former Army medic who could not be reached for comment, heads all of the court’s special treatment programs, overseeing the Drug Court, Co-Occurring Disorders Court, Sentenced Offender Drug Court, and Women’s Re-Entry Court, which similarly target groups with special needs that are addressed by alternate sentencing plans.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company