Everything You Need to Know About Veterans Court and Military Diversion

Written by Matthew Friedman July 16, 2021; revised by Matthew Lanthier November 9, 2023.

California Military Diversion, also known as Veterans Diversion, is a pre-trial diversion program, within Veteran’s Court, for active-duty or former members of the United States Military who are charged with a misdemeanor and suffer from certain types of trauma or mental health issues.

What is the purpose of Veterans Court in California?


The purpose of Veterans Court is to allow active-duty or former members of the United States Military the opportunity to avoid the consequences of a criminal conviction by participating in treatment to address trauma and mental health issues resulting from their service. The theory behind Veterans Court is that treatment and support systems are more effective at preventing further criminal behavior than punishment.

What is pre-trial diversion?


Pre-trial diversion allows a judge to pause criminal proceedings while the defendant completes treatment and other requirements that the court deems appropriate. If the defendant successfully completes the diversion program requirements, the charges will be dismissed, and the arrest will be wiped from their criminal record. This blog post is about Veteran’s Diversion. Read about mental health diversion here.

Who is eligible for Veterans Diversion?


In order to be eligible for Veterans Diversion, the defendant must be a former or current member of the United States Military, be charged with a misdemeanor offense, and suffer from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems as a result of his or her military service. 

Are DUI charges eligible for Veterans Diversion?


Driving under the influence charges are eligible for Veterans Diversion.

How do you qualify for Veterans Diversion?


In order to be considered for Veterans Diversion the defendant will need documentation showing proof of military service, such as a DD214, and medical documentation showing that the defendant suffers from a qualifying trauma or mental health issue.

What is the process for entering Veterans Court?


1. Consult with an Attorney

The first step in entering into Veterans Diversion is to consult with an attorney. The attorney will be able to confirm that you are facing a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, and that you meet the other eligibility criteria. The attorneys at the Cohen Defense have experience with the Placer County Veterans Court Programs, so contact us today to set up a free consultation

2. Assessment

The next step is for the defendant to be assessed by a representative from Veterans Court. They will evaluate eligibility, provide information about the program and submit a report to the court about whether they think the individual is a good fit for it.

3. Written Motion

In order to be accepted into Veterans Diversion, the defendant’s attorney must prepare a written motion requesting that the defendant be permitted to participate in the diversion program. The motion will lay out exactly why the defendant is eligible and will have attached documentation showing prior service and a medical diagnosis of a qualifying condition. This motion will be provided to the District Attorney and the Court. The motion will then be heard by a judge at a court hearing.

4. Contested Hearing

The District Attorney may object to the defendant entering Veterans Diversion and would lay out their objection in a written opposition to the motion. Both the District Attorney and Defense Attorney will have the opportunity to further argue their positions to the judge at a court hearing. The judge ultimately decides if the defendant will be accepted into the program.

What happens in Veterans Court?


If the defendant is accepted into Veterans Diversion, the criminal proceedings will be placed on hold and the defendant will be ordered to complete treatment for their trauma or mental health issues as well as other conditions that the court deems appropriate, such as substance abuse treatment and regular check-ins with a Veterans Court mentor.

How long is the Veterans Diversion program?


The Veterans Diversion program is a maximum of two years long.  Therefore, in order to participate the defendant must give up their right to a speedy trial. During the period of the diversion, the defendant will have regular court dates where the Veterans Court judge is informed of the defendant’s progress in the program.

Can my Veterans Diversion be ended by the judge early?


If the Veterans Court judge determines that the defendant is performing unsatisfactorily or is not benefitting from the treatment and services provided, then Veterans Diversion can be terminated. However, the defendant is entitled to a court hearing prior to termination. If the defendant is terminated from the program, criminal proceedings will be reinstated.

What happens after successful completion of Veterans Diversion?


If the defendant complies with the terms of Veterans Diversion and finishes all of the requirements, then they will be deemed to have successfully completed it. This usually takes between one and two years and varies based on the individual and their diversion treatment plan. Upon successful completion of the program, the criminal charges will be dismissed, and the defendant’s arrest record will be sealed. This means that the arrest will not appear on background checks and the defendant can answer “no” to questions about prior arrests on an application. However, the one exception is that the arrest must be disclosed if applying to be a peace officer.

Example of a Veterans Court Case in Placer County

Our firm recently represented a client who was charged with his second and third DUI. He had served in the United States Marine Corps in the early 2000s. He was previously diagnosed with PTSD and had suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of his service. He also reported that his use of alcohol increased significantly during his service. He was evaluated by a Placer County Veterans Court representative who found him to be an eligible candidate for Veterans Diversion and someone who would benefit from treatment services.

We wrote and filed a motion requesting that our client be permitted to participate in Veterans Diversion. The District Attorney objected to our request, arguing that the DUIs were not related to his prior service and that participation in Veterans Court was not sufficient to address his actions. At the hearing, we illustrated how his substance abuse was related to his prior service and argued that treatment would greatly benefit our client and prevent further alcohol-related incidents. The judge ruled in our favor and permitted our client to participate in Veterans Court.

Our client entered Veterans Diversion and was ordered to complete substance abuse and mental health treatment. He is also required to communicate regularly with a Veterans Court representative and his mentor, a former participant of Placer County Veterans Court. If he successfully completes the Veterans Diversion program, his cases will be dismissed, and his arrest record sealed. In addition to avoiding the serious consequences of a second and third DUI, the treatment will hopefully benefit him on a personal level.

If you are a veteran or are currently serving the United States Military and have been charged with a crime, please contact the Cohen Defense Group right away. We will help determine whether Veterans Diversion is an option for you and guide you through the process.

About Matthew Lanthier

Matthew Lanthier HeadshotMatthew Lanthier has been a criminal defense attorney with the Cohen Defense Group since 2022. After graduating from the UC Davis School of Law, Matthew has represented clients in adult and juvenile court, handling cases ranging from minor misdemeanors to more serious felonies. In his time with the firm, Matthew has successfully litigated complex legal issues while prioritizing his relationship with his clients and their families.