Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court in Hillsborough County, FL

When a veteran with military service-related illness or injuries is charged with a misdemeanor, special considerations apply. In many of these cases, the veteran is eligible for services through the Veterans Administration that might address the underlying conduct that lead to the allegations.

By funneling those cases into a special division, the cases can be handled more effectively and efficiently. The stated goal of Veterans Court is creating a "coordinated strategy of treatment specific to the needs of the veteran and modeled after principles of therapeutic jurisprudence."

To carry out this purpose, Judge Richard Weis has been selected for the new Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL.

UPDATE: Starting January 1, 2015, all cases pending in County Court Criminal Division "V" are being transferred to Circuit Criminal Division "V." Judge Gregory P. Holder was selected to preside over the new division which will include both misdemeanor and felony cases. Read more about Hillsborough County's Veterans Treatment Court

The Administrative Order Establishing Veterans Court

The administrative order setting out the rules for the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court was signed on August 12, 2013. Administrative Order S-2013-054, which created County Criminal Division "V" becomes effective on October 1, 2013.

The original administrative order was filed with Pat Frank, Clerk of the Court, and copies were sent to all of the Criminal Division Judges, the Veterans Administration (VA),  Mark Ober, State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and Julianne Holt, Public Defender for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.

The Purpose of Veterans Court

The purpose of Veterans Court is spelled out in the administrative order: 
It is necessary and appropriate to create a new subdivision of the County Criminal Division to focus on individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses who are veterans suffering from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological problem. 
This specialized Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court division will enable consideration of the unique nature of the issues related to veterans, the need for appropriate treatment in an environment conducive to wellness, as well as the continuing necessity to ensure the protection of the public.
The Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court (Veterans Court) will authorize a judge to expeditiously and efficiently divert veterans with service-related issues into available veteran treatment programs without compromising the safety of the public. 
This specialized court will increase the efficiency of the county criminal  court system and permit access to state, local and federal services and resources by utilizing Veterans Administration and Veteran Mentor Volunteer resources and support systems.
Eligibility to Participate in Veterans Court

Under section two of the administrative order, in order to participate in the Veterans Court, a defendant must meet the following four criteria:
1. Voluntary Participation
The defendant must voluntarily agree to participation in the the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court for Hillsborough County, FL. 
2. Discharge and Condition
The defendant must be a veteran discharged with honorable conditions who suffers from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological problem.
3. Veterans Administration Services Eligibility
The defendant must be eligible to receive services for evaluation and treatment planning through the Veterans Administration and Veteran Mentor Volunteer resources and support systems, or other available court-approved state, local or federal resources.
4. Offense Charged
The defendant must be charged with a misdemeanor offense, county ordinance violation or municipal ordinance violation enumerated below. 
If the defendant has multiple pending charges and all of the charges are on the list of enumerated offenses, the defendant remains eligible to participate on all pending charges. 
If the defendant is charged with a non-DUI criminal traffic offense in addition to the enumerated offense, the companion criminal traffic charge may also be included in the Veterans Court. 
If the defendant is charged with a violation of a  City of Tampa criminal ordinance that is ancillary to an enumerated state statute violation, the companion ordinance violation may also be included in the Veterans Court. 
What are the enumerated offenses? 

The enumerated offenses include misdemeanors under the Florida Statutes, Hillsborough County Ordinance Violations, City of Plant City Ordinance Violations, City of Temple Terrace Ordinance Violations and any other offense approved by the State Attorney's Office.

The State Attorney's Office also has the discretion of dropping felony charges down to misdemeanor charges so that the defendant will be eligible to participate in the program.

State Statute Misdemeanor Offenses

Statute               Offense
365.172(13)      False 911 call
562.11               Possession of alcohol by a person under 21 years of age
810.08              Trespass in structure or conveyance (not occurring at a private residene, unless the                  residence is vacant)
810.09              Trespass on property other than structure or conveyance (not occuring at a private residence unless the residence is vacant);
843.02              Resisting an officer without violence;
843.03              Obstruction by a disguised person;
856.011            Disorderly intoxication
877.03              Disorderly conduct
893.13(6)(b)     Possession of cannabis (often called "marijuana");
893.145            Possession of drug paraphernalia;
901.36(1)         False name to law enforcement officer
________        Any other criminal offense approved by the State Attorney's Office in Tampa or Plant City, FL.

Hillsborough County Ordinance Violations

Ordinance Violation
84-16 sec. 6 Failure to vacate a condemned structure
92-7 Public consumption of alcohol
00-34 Unlawful distribution of handbills
27-34                Unlawful plant removal
08-17                Crimes involving county parks
11-2                  Solicitation on public road
______             Any other county ordinance violation approved by the State Attorney's Office in and for Hillsborough County, FL

City of Plant City Ordinance Violations

Ordinance Violation
90-04                Unauthorized entry into city park
10-2                  Alcohol beverages in public areas
10-96                Consuming alcoholic beverages in prohibited area
50-2                  Prohibited camping
50-3                  Remaining in city park
____                 Any other ordinance violation approved by the State Attorney's Office for the Fourtheen Judicial Circuit normally prosecuted in the Plant City, Courthouse.

City of Temple Terrace Ordinance Violations

Ordinance Violation
3.335                   Open container violation
____                    Any other violation of the City of Temple Terrace Ordinances approved by the State Attorney's Office

How are cases referred into the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court?

The administrative order provides for the referral of cases into the Misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court.
If a defendant appears for arraignment or disposition on eligible charges, and  appears to be a veteran eligible for the Veterans Court, the defendant will be given a new disposition date within the originating division within 20 days. 
Prior to the disposition date, the defendant must be assessed by the Veterans Administration Criminal Justice Outreach Liaison to determine whether the defendant is a veteran who was discharged under honorable conditions, and if so, whether the defendant is eligible for treatment planning with the Veterans Administration or alternative community resources. 
If the defendant is not eligible, the case will remain in the originating division and proceed through the criminal justice system. 
If the defendant is eligible and wishes to participate in the Veterans Court, the defendant must waive speedy trial. The assistant state attorney will announce that the file is being transferred for participation in the Veterans Court. The originating division judge will order the case transferred to Veterans Court, Division "V," and order the case set on the next Veterans Court docket. 
A felony charge which has been reduced to an eligible misdemeanor charge may also be transferred to Veterans Court.
What happens in the misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court for Hillsborough County, FL?

The administrative order provides for certain general procedures including:
Once a defendant has been transferred to Veterans Court, the defendant is required to attend court hearings as set by the assigned Veterans Court judge. 
The defendant must participate in continued assessment and treatment and engage in discharge planning. 
Neither the Office of the State Attorney nor the Office of the Public Defender will be required to attend hearings set in Veterans Court. 
If the court determines that the defendant should be unsuccessfully discharged from Veterans Court, the court will enter an order transferring the case(s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. 
Copies of the transfer order must be provided to the defendant, the Office of the State Attorney and the Office of the Public Defender, or other counsel of record (all parties). 
If the court determines that the defendant has successfully completed Veterans Court, the court will issue an Order of Administrative Dismissal of the pending charges. 
Copies of the dismissal order will be provided to all parties. A defendant will not be required to participate in the Veterans Court any longer than 12 months.
What happens if the participant is arrested for a new misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation?

The consequences to the participant if he is arrested for a new misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation depend on whether the new misdemeanor charge is on the enumerated list or not.
i. Enumerated Charge or Violation
If a defendant is arrested for a new enumerated misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation (i.e., section 2B of this administrative order) while participating in Veterans Court, the Veterans Court judge will determine whether or not the defendant remains amenable for treatment and should be allowed to continue to participate in the program. 
If so, and the defendant agrees, the new charge will be transferred in the same manner provided for in section 3 of this administrative order. If the Veterans Court judge determines that the defendant should not remain in the program, the defendant will be unsuccessfully discharged by the court entering an order transferring the case(s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. Copies of the unsuccessful discharge transfer order will be provided to all parties.
ii. Non-Enumerated Charge
If a defendant is arrested for a new non-enumerated misdemeanor charge or ordinance violation (i.e., not listed in section 2B of this administrative order) while participating in Veterans Court, the Office of the State Attorney will review the new case to determine if it should also be referred to Veterans Court. 
The Veterans Court judge will also determine whether or not the defendant remains amenable for treatment and should be allowed to continue to participate in Veterans Court. If both the Office of the State Attorney and the Veterans Court judge agree to allow the defendant to remain in Veterans Court, and the defendant agrees, the new charge will be transferred in the same manner provided for in section 3 of this administrative order. 
If the Office of the State Attorney or the Veterans Court judge determines that the defendant should not remain in Veterans Court, the defendant will be unsuccessfully discharged by the court entering an order  transferring the case( s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. Copies of the transfer order will be provided to all parties.
C. New Felony Arrest
If a defendant is arrested for a new felony charge while participating in Veterans Court, the Office of the State Attorney will determine whether the new felony charge is one which may be considered for reduction to a misdemeanor and eligible for the defendant to continue participating in Veterans Court. 
If the Office of the State Attorney reduces the felony charge to an eligible misdemeanor charge and the presiding judge of Veterans Court agrees to allow the defendant to  continue participating in Veterans Court, then the felony charge which has been reduced to an eligible misdemeanor charge will be transferred to Veterans Court.
If the defendant is arrested for a new felony charge while participating in Veterans Court, and the Office of the State Attorney does not reduce the charge to an eligible misdemeanor charge, the defendant will be unsuccessfully discharged from Veterans Court by the presiding judge entering an order transferring the case(s) back to the originating division and setting the defendant on a disposition docket in that division. Copies of the transfer order will be provided to all parties.
The Records in Veterans Court Should Remain Confidential

The administrative order provides that the treatment records for the participants should remain confidential.
Patient treatment records are deemed confidential as provided by Florida law and generally must not be filed in the court file. If it is necessary that a treatment record or report or any portion of a treatment record or report be filed with the Clerk of Court for placement in the court file of a defendant in Veterans Court, the filer must also file a "Motion to Determine Confidentiality of Court Records" in accordance with Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420. The court will enter any appropriate order in accordance with Rule 2.420.
Conclusion

By recognizing the unique challenges for veterans with military service-related mental illness or physical injury, the Veterans Court promises better solutions for complicated problems.

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