Both the California Senate and Assembly passed a bill specifying that diversion applies to DUI cases for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. As of the date of this writing, the bill is on the California governor's desk for his expected signature.
This is great news for veterans who qualify. Previous to this legislation, veterans diversion existed with the specific exception of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases. Recent efforts have been made to allow veterans a method to avoid being convicted.
California Penal Code Section 1001.80 was enacted to assist both former and current members of the United States military who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health problems, or substance abuse as a result of their service, and have been subsequently charged with a criminal offense. This statute is fairly new in that it went into effect on January 1, 2015. It specifies that in misdemeanor cases, the court may postpone prosecution while the defendant seeks treatment for a mental health disorder. It provides that when the defendant successfully completes that treatment and complies with the terms of diversion, the charges will be dismissed.
Recent arguments in favor of DUI cases being included point to the fact that P.C. 1001.80 does not express and limits on which crimes are eligible. Despite some governmental agencies opposing DUI cases being included, our office has been successful in arguing some veteran clients the opportunity to avoid convictions through this program.
Currently, a motion must be filed with the court and the facts argued before a judge. If the judge determines that a veteran qualifies, the veteran is put in a program. The program varies, but an example is a requirement to do 12-24 months through VA or military (i.e. outpatient, counseling, etc) as well as other court requirements. After successful completion, a motion is made to dismiss the matter.
It may not be enough simply to have served in the military, however. The new legislation should specify the specific requirements for qualifying for this diversion. Fortunately, this new legislation should open the door for many more veterans to benefit from diversion and avoid conviction.