Saturday, December 12, 2009

Texas veterans courts an aggressive version of problem-solving jurisprudence

During the 81st Texas Legislature a little-noticed amendment to SB 1940 may have launched the most comprehensive, aggressive brand of "problem solving court" I've yet seen in the Lone Star State: "Veterans courts."

The bipartisan amendment authorizing them, which was essentially similar to SB 112 by Rodney Ellis, was proposed by Reps Frank Corte and Allen Vaught on third reading, accepted by bill sponsor Solomon Ortiz, then approved by the House 146-0.

If authorized by a county commissioners court, Texas veterans courts can be used for any misdemeanor or felony offense - with no limitation - when the veteran defendant has a brain injury, mental illness or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress, that "resulted from" military service in a combat zone.

By contrast, a veterans court in Colorado Springs, CO - which was the first I've heard of this new breed of specialty court - opened earlier this year with only a misdemeanor caseload. According to the LA Times, veterans courts began in Buffalo, NY in 2008 and more are opening around the country.

In veterans court, Texas' statute mandates that the DA and criminal defense attorney participate in a "nonadversarial" fashion to create an "individualized treatment plan" for the offender. The prosecutor must agree to the approach and the defendant may also choose not to participate. If the veteran successfully completes the program, charges may be dismissed "in the best interest of justice."

Tarrant County plans to open a veterans court using federal grant money distributed through the Governor's office. I don't know how many other counties will establish veterans courts, how many defendants prosecutors might admit into such programs, for what offenses they might be used or even whether the idea will work. The bill says programs must notify the Governor's Criminal Justice Division before commencing, so I'll check with them in the coming week. But my gut tells me this will be a successful approach, though perhaps not for the reasons the amendment-authors conceived.

Recently I wrote about research on the relationship between mental health, criminality and community supervision by Dr. Jennifer Skeem. She concluded that specialty mental health caseloads succeeded not because mental health problems promoted crime per se, but rather because courts and probation officers in those settings were more likely to use evidence-based practices when dealing with the offender instead of more punitive, authoritarian approaches.

That analysis strikes me as likely applying to veterans courts as well, since at the end of the day they're basically specialized mental health courts. They are likely to succeed, based on Skeem's analysis, if only because they're mandated under this statute to use a best-practices approach aimed at helping the defendant succeed instead of only punishing them when they fail.

I also like that veterans courts would be open to any type of offense, not just drug and alcohol-related crimes. Drug court judges like John Creuzot in Dallas for years have said that a greater array of offenses should be included in problem-solving courts like his DIVERT court in Dallas; Texas' veterans courts, though, tear down that artificial barrier entirely. There is no offense, even murder, that's not in theory eligible for veterans court diversion (though I doubt any prosecutor would ever agree to it in that type of case).

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee was told to monitor the rollout of veterans courts as one of its "interim charges" assigned by the Speaker of the House, so there will be more opportunities next year to learn where and how these courts are being used.

RELATED: From Sentencing Law & Policy, "Judge suggests more sentencing options for war veterans."


Anonymous said...

This idea was proposed to County Judge Joel Baker in Smith County, but his response was that Veterans with Mental Health issues were generally faking and he didn't want to have anything to do with it. I hope veterans will remember this come election time.

Anonymous said...

We get it Grits. If it involves releasing people from criminal responsibility, you like it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yeah, me and Frank Corte ... soft on crime liberals.

Anonymous said...

This idea of giving veterans a break when they violate the law is not new. It is a traditional conservative sentiment that has for the most part been handled unofficially throughout history -- in that the police simply overlook their actions once it is established they are "good conservative stock". The idea that "good conservatives" are not subject to the same rules as the rest of us is a little troubling, though. Don't get me wrong -- I do not begrudge veterans of anything they can get. They deserve it. But if we love some citizens enough to provide a "non-adversarial" approach to their prosecution, I see a basic equal protection issue here. Mentally ill offenders have the same rights to "non-adversarial" treatment regardless of how their disability ostensibly originated. Honorable service does not relieve one of the responsibility to obey the law, and this sort of smacks of creating a separate justice system (really a separate set of laws) for those who serve in the military. I like the plan, but it should be the same approach used with everybody. Equal protection.

Don said...

Anon 3:23

Good point. Why should how you got a mental illness matter. And nobody can say definitively that any mental illness was totally caused by service in wartime. Like you, I believe we should have programs for the those with mental illnesses that commit crimes, regardless of where the illness originated.

Anonymous said...

Louisiana woman arrested in grits attack on boyfriend

BOUTTE, La. -- A Louisiana woman is charged with getting back at her sleeping boyfriend after a fight by scalding him with a pot of boiling grits.

Sheriff's deputies say 44-year-old Carolyn Brown caused second-degree burns on the man's face and arms.

Brown was booked on a second-degree battery charge.



Anonymous said...

Serves him right , he should have gotten up for "Grits for Breakfast"!

john birge said...

This is not needed .....The only way it will help a veteran is if they break the law...Just stupid ...How much tax money does this take ...

Injury Compensation Ireland said...

Law firms are spread far and wide over the stateS. Most of these firms are
mid sized organizations.

Warrior&Veterans-Advocate said...

In a world that seems to present ever increasing dangers to our people there are those who will never be able to understand the trauma that so many combat vets have faced. I am most certain that those who have never experienced it have issued their comments without factual evidence to back their statement. Take for instance this comment by Mr. John Birge "How much tax money does this take?" Mr. Birge made this statement without gathering proper information to back his statement. Here are the facts. The taxpayers of a Texas county pay on the average $77.00 p/day per county inmate. Our particular county has 38 vet inmates. Let's do the math right here and now.
38 inmates X $77.00 p/day= $2,926.00 cost per day.
For one year: $2,926.00 p/day X 365days= $1,067,990.00 p/year.
Let's assume that 50% of the 38vets are eligible for Vet Court.
50% of 38= 19 eligible vets. $2,926.00/2= $1,463.00 p/day for 19inmates.
$1,463.00 X 365 days = $533,995.00 estimated savings to the county not including court cost for the 19 vets. Estimated County Court Cost p/vet = $175.00 x 19= $1,575.00 for the entire program.
$533,995.00 - $1,575.00 = $534,420.00 savings to the county taxpayers after estimated court cost.
The estimated cost by the VA for the RE-HAB program is approx $2,700.00 per vet which is paid by the Fed Gov. So you see Mr. Birge, you are correct in saying that Taxpayer money funds the program. However how hard do you try to cut your income tax each year? What are you doing to assist in the problem with Welfare Fraud, Social Security Fraud, Income Tax Fraud and all the other programs that you haven't taken a shot at? How can you accurately make your statement ? Where are the facts and data to back you up? If you and others would study our court case history you will also find that almost all cases involving a subject with a mental disorder is granted special consideration and in millions of cases is provided medical and mental assistance for which the financial burden is always on the taxpayer.

Now will you please tell everyone how much a Warriors life is worth? Will you tell everyone how much the armless and legless or totally incapacitated warrior is worth? Will you tell everyone how much the pain and suffering of the family of that warrior is worth?

You cannot put a price on it can you? Of course not and no one else can either. What is your life worth? To us Warriors it is PRICELESS!! I am a combat vet Mr. Birge and your warrior's have made it possible for you and millions of others to enjoy the freedoms you have today. We thank you for giving us the opportunity. Without doubt either we or a new generation will do it again and without hesitation. I ask you and all others to remember this..No matter how you feel about us there will always be a warrior standing at your door to protect you. You will not know his/her NAME, COLOR or RELIGION. But we will be there for our Country and the People.

My intentions are not to degrade or embarrass anyone. We, your Vets, and although we know you cannot understand what combat does to a person, hope and pray that you will stand behind us. We don’t claim to be any better than anyone else. However we do claim that we are the reason for your freedom and that we and future generations of Warriors will always be there for our People…..

No Vet is above the law and the Police do not look the other way as one ANONYMOUS stated. YES we are given special consideration in a VET COURT ONLY. However it is not easy for the vet. Stiff mandates and weeks and months of courses by the VA are mandated. If the vet does not comply with the rules and regulations it is certain reincarceration. I have personally witnessed this happening in the Harris County Vet Court. So where are the facts? Why make such comments when you have no idea how it works?

Your United States Vets
God Bless