By Debbie Gregory
A bill that recently passed the California Assembly would require California court judges to take a defendant’s Veteran status and mental health status into consideration when passing sentencing.
Recently, the CA State Assembly passed Bill AB 2098, which would apply to a defendant who was, or currently is, a member of the United States military; and who may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems as a result of that service. Considerations under the law include courts to lean favorably towards probation and treatment programs for defendants who meet the criteria.
California Judges are already mandated to determine whether convicted defendants were members of the military, and whether they suffer from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual trauma, or other illness that could affect their mental state. Bill AB 2098 will require that judges include the Veteran status as a factor in favor of shorter sentences, probation and treatment options.
A significant amount of crimes committed by active duty military and Veterans can be directly linked to emotional and psychological injuries sustained while serving their country. Locking these emotionally scarred Veterans away in jail is not necessarily the best option.
The passing of this bill may have been influenced by the overcrowding of California prisons. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Levine, was concerned with the number of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who return from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that, if untreated, could be the reason why a military Veteran could resort to crime.
For some Veterans, criminal behavior could be linked to their military service, and as a result, 27 states have begun to implement Veterans’ Courts into their legal systems. The first one was established in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. These Veterans’ Courts are modeled after drug and mental health courts, and promote sobriety, recovery and stability through strict court appointed measures that differ from jail time.
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Military Connection: Criminal Veterans in CA? By Debbie Gregory