VETERANS COURT: WHAT IS IT?
A few years ago both the Thirteenth Circuit (Hillsborough County) and the Sixth Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) set up what is generically called Veterans Courts. These Courts were set up to assist Military Veterans and active duty personnel who had found themselves arrested for the first time. In the Thirteenth Circuit, the programs official name is the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) Program and in the Sixth Circuit the programs official name is the Sixth Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court (VTC). These Courts are unique in that not only are the Courts, the States Attorney Office and the Public Defenders Offices involved but so is the local VA facilities.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
The Hillsborough County Veteran’s Treatment court (“VTC’) is a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment program designed to identify individuals with qualifying criminal charges who are:
- A veteran discharged under honorable conditions, as defined in s. 1.01, or service member, as defined in s. 250.01.
- Suffer from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological problem, and
- Have an existing link or connection between the offense, diagnoses and military service.
The Sixth Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court is a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment court for non-violent misdemeanor or felony defendants, who are serving or have served in the armed services. A defendant is eligible for Veterans Treatment Court if:
- The defendant has served or is serving in the United States Armed Forces, including National Guard and Reserves.
- The charge(s) stem from physical injuries or mental issues that are the result of the defendant’s military service.
- The charge(s) is a misdemeanor(s) or third-degree felony.
- The defendant has not previously participated in VTC unless this criterion is specifically waived by the State Attorney’s Office; and
- The defendant’s mental health/substance abuse assessment indicates that he/she is amenable to mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.
The Hillsborough County Veteran’s Treatment Court (VTC) requires the following rules be followed in order to successfully graduate from the program.
- Sign all agreements and releases necessary for entrance into VTC program.
- Report to Court as required.
- Report to Case Manager as required.
- Report to the Probation Officer as required.
- Maintain contact with your veteran mentor.
- Follow instructions as they are given.
- Appear on time for all court dates, treatment appointments, and other scheduled appointments.
- Participate in any and all evaluations or assessments needed to develop a coordinated strategy to address your substance abuse and/or mental health treatment needs.
- Fully cooperate and actively participate in treatment, counseling, support groups.
- Answer truthfully any question posed by the Court, probation officer, or any other member of the Veterans Treatment Court team.
- Take any and all medications prescribed for you, in the manner prescribed. Tell your doctor about medications prohibited by the VTC program.
- Do not use or possess intoxicants (alcohol), illegal drugs or any dangerous substances including “Spice,” “K2,” Do not use or possess Suboxone (Buprenorphine), Methadone, or any other detoxification/maintenance medication unless approved by the Court and prescribed by a physician.
- Do not enter any establishment whose primary source of income is the sale of alcohol, including, but not limited to bars, liquor stores, pool halls or night clubs.
- Submit to random urine, breath, and other drug or alcohol testing.
- Do not commit any new law violations while participating in the VTC program.
- Be gainfully employed, participating in a job training program, or enrolled full time in school unless excused or modified by the court.
- Remain in Hillsborough County unless given permission by the court or case manager and/or probation officer. Do not change your residence or employment without the consent of the Court.
- Complete in a timely manner any community service requirements.
- Do not possess or attempt to purchase any firearm or weapon, unless permission is granted by the Court.
- Do not have in your actual or constructive possession any alcohol, drug, drug paraphernalia or firearm, or any other item that is prohibited unless approved by the Court.
- Allow visitation to your place of residence and consent to random searches of your person, possessions, residence, and vehicle by the Department of Corrections, law enforcement, or any other official authorized to conduct a search by the court.
- Behave and dress appropriately for court and treatment sessions.
- Pay the required costs and fees and any court-ordered restitution.
- State and federal laws require strict confidentiality regarding issues relating to medical, mental health, and substance abuse treatment. The VTC may not share your information without your consent. You are not to share information pertaining to other participants
The Sixth Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court does not have an exhaustive list like that in Hillsborough but it does require all participants to:
- All participants are required to make frequent court appearances.
- Participants will appear before the VTC judge every 30 to 45 days. Veterans Treatment Court is a 12 to 24-month program.
- Participants will participate in substance abuse and/or mental health treatment.
- Participants will be required to participate in frequent, random testing for substance abuse as applicable.
SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION OF THE PROGRAM
In the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) Program, upon successful completion of the VTC, one of the following will occur:
- For Misdemeanor or Felony Pre-Trial Intervention cases, the State will dismiss the charges against you.
- For Deferred Prosecution cases, the State will allow you to plea to an amended charge.
- For Post–adjudication cases, you will have complied with an important condition of your probation or community control.
In the Sixth Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) Program upon successful completion of the VTC, one of the following will occur:
- Will result in the dismissal of charges against defendants entering the program through Pre-Trial Intervention.
- For defendants entering the Veterans Treatment Court as a condition of probation (post-plea VTC), successful completion may result in adjudication being withheld and/or a reduced length of probation.
EARLY TERMINATION OF VETERANS TREATMENT COURT
In the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) Program you may seek early termination and successful discharge from the program after completing one-half of the minimum period of the program, provided:
- You are in good standing with the program.
- You have completed all program requirements.
- You have not had any violations of the conditions or program rules.
In the Sixth Judicial Circuit Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) Program, you may seek early termination and successful discharge from the program after:
- You, the State, any of your treatment providers and any member of the veterans’ treatment intervention team have been heard by the Court if requested, and
- Only the Court has the discretion to grant or deny your motion for early termination and successful discharge from the program.
FAILURE TO COMPLETE THE VTC PROGRAM
In both programs, if the Court terminates you from the program for failure to successfully complete the program, the Court may find you in violation of probation or community control, and impose any lawful sentence, including incarceration or return your case/file to the originating court for further deliberations/sentencing.