California has established a pretrial Military Diversion Program for current and former members of the U.S. military who are charged with misdemeanor offenses including misdemeanor DUI.

If you are serving in the armed forces or if you’ve served in the past, keep reading, and you’ll learn details that you may need to know about the state’s pretrial Military Diversion Program.

WHO QUALIFIES FOR THE MILITARY DIVERSION PROGRAM?

The program is for misdemeanor defendants who are current or former members of the U.S. military and may be suffering from traumatic brain injury, sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or “mental health problems as a result of his or her military service.”

If a defendant meets these criteria, a court may place the defendant into a pretrial diversion program. A judge must determine that the trauma is tied to the defendant’s military service.

Additionally, a defendant must waive the right to a speedy trial and must not have participated previously in a Military Diversion Program.

If a defendant qualifies, entering the Military Diversion Program is – for most defendants – a superior option to accepting a plea deal or being convicted for a misdemeanor like DUI.

WHY HAS CALIFORNIA ESTABLISHED A MILITARY DIVERSION PROGRAM?

Awareness has grown regarding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other afflictions that may be linked to military service.

The Department of Veterans Affairs tells us that possibly as many as twenty percent of the veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam suffer from PTSD.

Veterans struggling with PTSD may attempt to “cope” by abusing drugs or alcohol. Criminal charges like DUI are too frequently the result.

HOW MANY MILITARY DIVERSION PROGRAMS ARE NOW OPERATING?

In 2018, more than 250 pretrial diversion programs for veterans are in operation across the nation. These programs focus on counseling and treatment instead of punishment.

In 2015, California established a special pretrial Military Diversion Program for veterans and for active duty military members accused of misdemeanor offenses.

Orange County misdemeanor defendants who are diverted into the pretrial Military Diversion Program do not enter a plea. Instead, the court dismisses the charge upon completion of the program.

HOW LONG DOES THE PROGRAM TAKE? WHAT IS REQUIRED?

The Military Diversion Program in California can take as long as two years – and sometimes even longer. Intensive treatment is required, and participants must attend a number of weekly meetings and counseling sessions.

Judge Mary Kreber of the Superior Court of Orange County told the Orange County Register, “It’s a rigorous program and the requirements are pretty stringent. We have some people who say it would have been easier just to take the misdemeanor and jail time.”

If a participant accused of DUI violates the terms of the pretrial Military Diversion Program, the DUI charge could be reinstated – and treated like any other DUI case.

The Military Diversion Program deals with only the criminal side of a DUI charge. A veteran charged with DUI may still have his or her driver’s license suspended “administratively” by the California Department of Motor Vehicles after a DUI arrest.

IS THERE OPPOSITION TO MILITARY DIVERSION PROGRAMS?

Not everyone is convinced that a pretrial military diversion program is a good idea. In Nevada and Colorado, the American Civil Liberties Union has argued that military diversion programs cause courts to treat veterans differently solely on the basis of their status as veterans.

If you are an active service member or a military veteran, and you are charged with driving under the influence in southern California, arrange at once to speak with an Orange County DUI lawyer.

The details, times, and locations may differ, but the pretrial Military Diversion Program operates in basically the same way in every county in southern California.

HOW CAN A DUI LAWYER HELP?

It is imperative to speak with a skilled DUI attorney before you accept any plea bargain or enter any plea to a driving under the influence charge.

Politely exercise your right to remain silent after an arrest – until you have an opportunity to consult with your attorney.

Tell your attorney at once if you are currently serving or if you are a veteran and you believe you may qualify for the pretrial Military Diversion Program.

DO PRETRIAL MILITARY DIVERSION PROGRAMS WORK?

One southern California district attorney says that pretrial military diversion programs work effectively.

Deputy District Attorney Harrison Kennedy with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office says that the recidivism rate for that county’s Military Diversion Program is about twenty percent, and the recidivism rate in the general jail population is about seventy percent.

Military diversion programs are meant to reduce jail and court costs and overcrowding and to help veterans avoid criminal convictions.

If a defendant was on active duty at the time of a DUI arrest, completing a pretrial military diversion program possibly might spare that defendant from a less-than-honorable discharge.

WHAT IS SENATE BILL 725? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR VETERANS?

Prior to 2017, there was controversy regarding the participation of DUI defendants in California’s military diversion programs, but that controversy was resolved when Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 725 into law last year.

“This bill will … ensure that veterans and service members who have served our country will get the help they need to address substance abuse and mental health issues,” said State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara, the bill’s sponsor.

Senate Bill 725 clarifies that veterans who are struggling with PTSD and other mental health disorders linked to their military service are eligible for pretrial diversion programs for misdemeanor DUI charges.

If you are on active duty, or if you are a veteran, and you are charged with driving under the influence in southern California, you must have the advice and representation that an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer can provide.

Your attorney will examine the charge and the evidence against you, will help you enter the Military Diversion Program if you qualify, and will tell you what to expect in a diversion program.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE MILITARY DIVERSION PROGRAM?

By successfully completing the Military Diversion Program, a DUI defendant can obtain the help that he or she genuinely needs and also have the charge dismissed.

If you are charged with DUI a second time in California after completing the Military Diversion Program, you cannot qualify for the program a second time, and second DUI offenses are dealt with quite harshly by California courts.

So if you enter the Military Diversion Program in Orange County, it’s vital to take advantage of the help that is made available.

It starts after a DUI arrest with a call to an experienced DUI attorney. If you are on active duty, or if you are a veteran, there is an excellent chance that you will qualify for the pretrial Military Diversion Program.