U.S. military veterans that are arrested for DUI in King County, Washington, and who suffer from either substance abuse or mental health conditions as a result of their service, may have an option of handling their case that departs from traditional DUI defense. In 2011, the King County Council created the Regional Veterans Treatment Court (RVTC). Opened in 2012 and run through the King County District Court, the RVTC serves those U.S. military veterans who have come in contact with the criminal justice system by reason of a mental health or substance abuse issue that were a direct result of their service to their country.
The RVTC was created in recognition of the fact that service men and women often return from their tour of duty suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). These conditions and illnesses make integration back into society difficult and can lead to run ins with the criminal justice system. The purpose or the RVTC is to identify those veterans in need of services, provide them a safe and structured setting in which to seek treatment and to assist in their re-integration back into non-military society.
Program participation requires a qualifying diagnosis, an amenability to treatment and a willingness to follow the terms of participation set forth by the court. The most common types of qualifying diagnoses are those mentioned above (substance abuse, PTSD, TBI) but other types of mental health illnesses may be qualified as well. If the court liaison makes the determination that a veteran meets the eligibility requirements, the prosecutor’s office is notified and an offer to participate in the RVTC is made. That offer usually includes a reduction or occasionally a dismissal of the underlying charge as well as the program requirements of participation.
In order to participate in the RVTC, adherence to rather strict conditions is required. Not only must the person agree to participate in and complete all recommended treatment, he or she must also regularly meet with a probation officer as well as make routine court appearances. Complete abstinence from all alcohol and non-prescribed drugs will also be a requirement. It is also possible that other conditions particular to the specific case will also be mandated such as no possession of weapons. Should the veteran except the offer to participate, an agreement will be reached to resolve the criminal matter, usually by way of a reduction of the underlying charge or an agreement to dismiss at a later date should all conditions be met. At that time an “opt-in” hearing is scheduled to present the agreement to the court.
Should the veteran, after going through the evaluation process, decide that he would rather not participate, he may choose to “opt out” of veterans court. This would simply entail informing the court of that decision at which time the case would be removed from veterans court and returned to the mainstream court for more traditional prosecution. Occasionally, if both parties agree that the VRTC is not the right for the veteran, an agreement may be reached for a favorable resolution of the charge in mainstream court but with probationary conditions that are not quite as onerous as those imposed in the RVTC.
Participation in the RVTC is certainly not right for everyone, even those who otherwise qualify. It is very time intensive and a lot by way of participation is expected from the veteran. Multiple treatment programs, meetings with counselors, probation and officers and several court hearing are the norm. The program also, however, provides a safe, secure and generally caring environment to deal with substance abuse and mental health issues. It provides a structure to help re-integrate back into society. It also, very often, can lead to a reduction or dismissal of the underlying criminal charge(s).
If you believe that you or someone you know may qualify for such a program, discuss these options with an attorney familiar with the process. I have seen this program work wonders for some people and be absolutely the wrong fit for other. But if the above scenario sounds like it may apply, it is definitely worth your while to investigate further.