By Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney Lyle B. Mazin
'Tis the season (election season that is) to create programs designed to help those who comprise a significant portion of our population (and who generally vote). State Attorney Lawson Lamar announced the launch of a Pretrial Diversion program aimed at providing second chances to those who arguably deserve it most; American Military Veterans. Candidly, who cares if its election season or not, there is never a bad time for good.
Convicting a Veteran is a sour day for all parties. Cleary it is not the desire of a defense attorney as it is equally generally not the desire a prosecutor (dont worry, your secrets are safe with me). Many prosecutors are former veterans themselves and appreciate that a criminal conviction is a harsh repercussion for what is often a momentary lapse in judgment after a defendants years of dedicated service. Veterans often return detached from the community, jobless and sometimes suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues. Good people have bad days and out of respect for their service our community should assist them... not convict them.
So what is this Veterans Diversion program? The Department of Veteran's Affairs and The Office of the State Attorney joined forces to give our fighting veterans a fighting chance. Once referred to diversion The Deparment of Veteran's Affairs will evaluate the defendant and recommend programs such as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and job skill development. The Veterans Diversion will be similar to existing diversion programs except with more resources and more lenient eligibility requirements. If the Defendant successfully completes the program the State will voluntarily dismiss the pending charges.
Defendant must be a veteran who is eligible for VA services
The Current offense cannot be:
- A forcible felony offense
- An offense involving the use of a weapon
- Felonies of the first degree
- Offenses in which the defendant is engaging in a business or ongoing scheme or course of conduct which is a violation of the law (e.g. sale or delivery of controlled substances)
- Criminal traffic offense, unless the defendant qualifies for DUI Diversion. (Driver's license offenses will generally be eligible)
- Child abuse
- Any violation of offenses under Chapter 794,782 or 800.04
- Negligent storage of a firearm resulting in injury or death
- Child pornography
- An offense which would require sex offender registration if convicted
- Any offense that would qualify the defendant as a sexual predator if convicted
- Exposure of sexual organs
The Defendant may have no more than 3 prior felony or misdemeanor offenses, no of which may be for any of the above referenced offenses. Additionally, consent of the victim will be required.
The participant will be required to:
- perform 100 hours of community service
- Pay costs of supervision
- Pay restitution (if applicable)
- Pay the costs of prosecution in the amount of $50.00 for a misdemeanor and $100.00 for a felony
- Meet with the appropriate corrections officer on a monthly basis and/or provide monthly reports
- Successfully participate in any recommended programs provided by the department
- Domestic violence offenders must complete an approved Batterer's intervention Program
The term of the program shall be no less than 9 months and may be longer if deemed appropriate.
By any account, the creation of this Veterans Diversion program will have a positive impact. If successfully completed, veteran defendants will not only avoid consequences such as jail time but they will also potentially preserve the very rights, such as the right to vote and the right to bare arms, that they once vigorously fought to protect for the rest of us.