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Exploratory Meeting on Proposed Veterans’ Courts at High Street Station Cafe

This Thursday, at the High Street Station Cafe, Teresa Livingston of Oakland’s Swords to Plowshares will facilitate a discussion about the potential for an Alameda County Veterans’ Court, dedicated to handling criminal cases involving United States War Veterans.

The idea of a separate court for veterans is a controversial one. The American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada recently raised objections to a proposed veterans’ court there.

Mary Ellen Salzano of Morgan Hill is the Founder of the California Statewide Collaborative for our Military and Families. Her son has completed three overseas tours with the U.S. Marine Corps. Action Alameda News asked Ms. Salzano what she would say to people who object to veterans’ courts on the basis that it creates a separate judicial system for a certain class of people. “These people are putting their lives on the line for their country,” she said, “so they deserve some consideration.”

She also pointed out to legislation particular to California, Penal Code Section 1170.9 which reads:

(a) In the case of any person convicted of a criminal offense who would otherwise be sentenced to county jail or state prison and who alleges that he or she committed the offense as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or psychological problems stemming from service in a combat theater in the United States military, the court shall, prior to sentencing, hold a hearing to determine whether the defendant was a member of the military forces of the United States who served in combat and shall assess whether the defendant suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or psychological problems as a result of that service.

(b) If the court concludes that a defendant convicted of a criminal offense is a person described in subdivision (a), and if the defendant is otherwise eligible for probation and the court places the defendant on probation, the court may order the defendant into a local, state, federal, or private nonprofit treatment program for a period not to exceed that which the defendant would have served in state prison or county jail, provided the defendant agrees to participate in the program and the court determines that an appropriate treatment program exists.

Challenged with the suggestion that the emphasis should be on pre-offense treatment for veterans before they commit an offense, Ms. Salzano said that there are not adequate treatment programs and facilities for returning veterans.

The meeting is Thursday, March 11, from 10am to 1pm at the High Street Station Cafe, 1303 High Street, Alameda, CA 94501.

In a late-breaking update to the story, there will be a meeting today at the Twin Towers Methodist Church, in Alameda, from 10am until 12 noon. Tracy Cascio, LCSW, Homeless Program Coordinator/Social Work Service at the Oakland VA Behavioral Health Clinic will present on subjects of interest to veterans including homelessness, housing, job training, mental health resources and other programs. 2259 Central Avenue, Alameda, CA 94501.

1 comment to Exploratory Meeting on Proposed Veterans’ Courts at High Street Station Cafe

  • Barb

    This is a sentencing statute only. At a time when the California court system is suffering (not unlike our school district and city) from the financial downturn in the economy, judges are unlikely to expend additional funds pre-conviction. If the VA has funds to expend on psychiatrict evaluations of veterans pre-conviction, the courts will allow this. A competent diagnosis may influence the ultimate diposition and treatment of a veteran defendant. But the courts already have a furlough day in which all courts are shut down one day a month (the 3rd Wednesday) due to lack of funds. Due to only an occassional defendant qualifying for such a special presentencing evaluation and the fact that the statute itself applies post conviction, establishing a special court will not happen.