Military Diversion, established in January 2016, is a pre-plea program for current or former members of any branch of the United States Military charged with misdemeanor crimes. The court must find that these defendants may be suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, sexual trauma, or mental illness as a result of their military service. This program is a collaboration of the San Mateo County Superior Court, Private Defender Program (PDP), District Attorney’s (DA) Office, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Probation Department. Participants attend court review hearings and work towards successful completion of the program by completing counseling and/or treatment and making full payment of victim restitution.
The following is the current eligibility requirements for Military Diversion:
- Must have a prior or current membership in the United States Military (preferred eligible for Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, as the majority of services are provided by the VA).
- Must have been discharged from the military as honorable, general, or other than honorable.
- Misdemeanor offense(s)
- Must have a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Alcohol or Drug abuse, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), sexual trauma and/or substance abuse or other mental health issue that stems from military service.
- Current or prior criminal history cannot include serious offense(s) or those requiring sexual or gang registration. Those individuals not considered a danger to the community.
Participation in Military Diversion is voluntary and participants are required to agree to conditions including that they agree to sanctions (i.e. journaling, NA/AA meetings, volunteer work, daily testing, admonishment from the Judge, continuous alcohol monitoring device, etc.) at the discretion of the deputy probation officer (DPO), excluding detaining in jail as the defendant has not entered a plea on the underlying case. Program is for two years, but participants may graduate after completion of at least one year.
Program Referrals and Process
Referrals for Military Diversion are typically received from the arraignment calendar; however, a defendant can make request at any point prior to entering a plea. The case is set for a Military Diversion intake hearing approximately three to four weeks out and the defendant is referred to the PDP. An assessment is completed by BHRS, with a copy emailed to the DPO. The assessment includes a summary of the interview BHRS had with the individual along with their recommendations. Also received from BHRS is a signed HIPPA/release so the Military Diversion Team can freely discuss all matters pertaining to the defendant’s case. The case is added to the Military Diversion court calendar for intake.
When admitted into Military Diversion, the DPO meets briefly with the participant after court and schedules an orientation appointment which is typically scheduled for the following week. A probation application packet is given to the client who is directed to complete it and bring it to the orientation. At the orientation, the DPO collects the summarily admit packet, confirms the information, and reviews the Military Diversion Program rules with the participant and has her/him sign the form.
Reviews, Progress Reports and Violations
If admitted into Military Diversion, a review date is scheduled, typically one to four months out (Note: if a defendant is admitted into the program on DUI charges they are calendared for Military Diversion reviews for three consecutive months. After the first three months the DPO may recommend follow up review dates several months apart).
Progress reports are completed by the DPO for each Military Diversion participant when they have a scheduled review date in court. The reviews serve to inform the team of how the participant is doing regarding compliance with treatment and program rules and expectations.
If the participant’s performance is consistently rated as “Unsatisfactory,” or they have committed a serious violation, the DPO may recommend the participant be excluded from the program. This may occur at the participants review hearing based from the DPO’s recommendation as submitted in the progress report.
Program Completion and Graduation
Upon successful completion of the program, the DPO will submit a recommendation that the defendant be considered for graduation at a review date. If approved, the case is dismissed, fines and fees (except actual victim restitution) are waived, diversion is terminated, and the Judge will order that the record be sealed.
The two examples below highlight some of the past and current success participants have and continue to achieve through the support of the Military Diversion Program. These participants have taken full advantage this pre-plea program offers and demonstrate that one can learn from past struggles if committed to their own wellbeing. This program is committed to assisting participants and, similar to other programs within the Specialty Courts Unit, aimed at matching San Mateo County defendants with interventions to which they are best suited, maximizing the potential for effective treatment while blending accountability.
Jane Doe, a female veteran who was admitted into the Military Diversion Program approximately six months ago. Her case stems from driving while under the influence of alcohol and driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher. This participant enlisted in the United States Navy in 1999 and was honorably discharged in 2004. As part of her treatment, she is to attend weekly mental health therapy through the Veterans Administration. Jane is a single mother of three young boys, including a pair of twins. Along with practicing yoga and exercising regularly, she works full-time as an Advanced Medical Support Assistant. Additionally, she is a full-time student pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Care Administration. Given the numerous demands this participant juggles throughout her day, she has managed and continues to fulfill her obligations to the diversion program. Jane stands out amongst others as she is the only participant in the program who is employed full-time, a full-time mother and a full-time student. Given her commitment to succeed, this participant is well on her way to successfully complete the Military Diversion Program and graduate in January 2019, thereby having her case closed and her charges dismissed.
John Doe graduated from the Military Diversion Program in February 2018, is a veteran who enlisted in the United States Navy in 1986 and was honorably discharged in 1989. He was admitted into the Military Diversion Program in February 2017 based on three misdemeanor drug possession maters. This graduate of the program attended and completed an intensive outpatient program at the Veteran’s Affairs Campus in the Palo Alto Medical Center. He also attended at least four Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings a week including being the secretary at one of the meetings. Additionally, just prior to graduating from the program he became an AA sponsor to two individuals who also struggled with addiction. John met with his therapist monthly and spoke with his AA sponsor each week. In addition and of his own volition, he volunteered twice a week, assisting disabled Veterans at the Palo Alto Veteran’s Affairs campus. John exceeded expectations and per his own accord, had 14 months of sobriety at the time of his graduation.