Governor Signs Jackson Bill To Help Veterans and Protect Public Safety

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Source: State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson

Governor Jerry Brown has just signed a bill by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) that clarifies that military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders associated with their service in the military are eligible for pretrial diversion programs for misdemeanor DUIs, thus ensuring that these veterans get the help they need sooner and more effectively.

Senate Bill 725 clarifies contradicting language in California law that had resulted in differing state appeals courts’ rulings last year at a time when courts were experiencing an influx of requests from veterans charged with these misdemeanors. Provisions in the penal code established criteria for these veterans to qualify for diversion programs, while the California vehicle code prohibited it.

“This bill will not only clarify once and for all that these veterans are eligible for pretrial diversion programs, it will also 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,” Jackson said. “This will ultimately help protect public safety and help prevent repeat DUIs, while giving these veterans a more hopeful future.”

“This law serves the dual purpose of restoring veterans to health while protecting public safety,” said Jude Litzenberger, executive director, California Veterans Legal Task Force, one of the sponsors of the bill. “When service members or veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, substance use, or other mental health conditions caused by their military service get DUI misdemeanors because they self-medicated instead of seeking mental health treatment, they will be ordered to get appropriate and timely treatment.  A judge will monitor them for 12-18 months, which protects public safety by reducing repeat DUIs.”

“All of California’s military and veterans owe a great debt of gratitude to Senator Jackson for taking up this important issue and clarifying state law that current and former military members are eligible for treatment instead of prison when they are charged with a DUI,” said Pete Conaty, a governmental advocate for veterans. “Without this legislation, active duty military careers would have been ruined by one non-injury DUI offense, and we would have had to wait for 18 months for the California Supreme Court to decide this issue.”

Enacted in 2014, pretrial diversion programs provide an alternative to traditional criminal justice proceedings, and are designed to help veterans get the services they need as a result of untreated trauma experienced during their military service. If they successfully complete a closely monitored program, they can have their criminal charges dismissed.

Under SB 725, veterans charged with felonies would not be eligible, and veterans could still have their licenses suspended and revoked by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Data shows that timely treatment for conditions underlying substance abuse is effective and significantly reduces recidivism.

This bill continues Jackson’s long-standing work assisting veterans. She is the author of laws giving teachers, school employees and state employees who are disabled veterans additional sick leave during their first year in the workforce to seek treatment for their service-related disabilities.

Jackson was previously named the Leo P. Burke Legislator of the Year by the American Legion, Department of California, for her work authoring a law to ensure that eligible veterans going through the justice system are steered to Veterans Treatment Courts. Jackson also authored Senate Concurrent Resolution 27, which designated portions of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for inclusion in the National Purple Heart Trail.

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