There are currently an estimated 840,000 U.S. Military veterans residing in Pennsylvania. Veterans make up a minimum of 10% of the population in each county within the state. Approximately 8 to 10% of those incarcerated are veterans. Veterans are incarcerated at a much lower rate than nonveterans; however, those who are incarcerated are more likely to struggle with mental health concerns.
Philadelphia Veterans Court
The First Judicial District of Pennsylvania has a Veterans Court that is managed collaboratively by the District Attorney, the Public Defender, and the Veterans Administration (VA). Judges from the Philadelphia Municipal Court that are veterans preside in these matters. This program is classified among the many “problem-solving court initiatives” such as the DUI Treatment Court, Mental Health Court, Accelerated Misdemeanor Program, and several others.
Program Eligibility and Disposition
Defendants that are current or former military members that are charged with non-violent misdemeanor offenses are eligible. Veterans who have had a felony or firearm-related conviction in the last 10 years are ineligible. The Pre-Trial Unit of the First Judicial District will interview potential participants and the District Attorney's Office will decide who is appropriate for program entry.
The defendant may enter a no-contest plea and the case will remain pending in the pretrial phase without entering a verdict. Other lesser common options include a negotiated stipulated trial or the defendant may enter a guilty plea.
Those pursuing entry to the Veterans Court will meet with VA staff that has an office at the Justice Center to be assessed. The VA staff will issue a recommendation for treatment. Some of the programs and assistance available include the following:
- Treatment for alcohol and drug dependency
- Treatment for mental health concerns
- Referrals to a medical specialist or therapist
- Assistance with housing-related issues
- Training and skills related to employment
Participants are placed under some form of Court supervision during their course of treatment. This supervision may or may not have a requirement that the defendant reports regularly to a probation officer. Additional conditions may be imposed based on the discretion of the Court.
Participants are also assigned a “mentor” that provides guidance and support. The mentor is a volunteer that also may assist the participant with accessing benefits that they may be entitled to. All peer mentors are U.S. veterans that served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or National Guard. Mentors are also required to complete a training program at the Stout Center for Criminal Justice.
The length of the supervised period may vary based on the nature of the offense and disposition. After completing the program, the participant attends a graduation ceremony. When the criminal proceedings were left pending in the pre-trial phase, the charges may be expunged.
Seasoned Criminal Defense Lawyer for Cases in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney that has been tenaciously representing clients for many years in the Pennsylvania criminal courts. He will analyze the evidence, facts, and circumstances to develop a comprehensive plan of defense. For an initial case consultation, contact the office at (215) 535-5353.