Hillsborough County’s Veterans Treatment Court has been so successful that in 2016, the Department of Justice selected it for a pilot program to help improve veterans’ courts across the United States. It was one of two chosen for the Justice Department’s 21-month initiative.
Administrative Orders for Veterans Treatment Court
The most recent changes to Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, were announced in an administrative order (S-2015-012) dated on February 5, 2015.
In order to implement provisions of the “T. Patt Maney Veterans’ Treatment Intervention Act” (sections 6-20 of Chapter 2012-159, Laws of Florida) changes were recently made to help a greater number of veterans and service members who enter the criminal justice system and voluntarily agree to enter Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa.
Now both misdemeanor and felony cases will be funneled into one division - Circuit Criminal Division “V”. Any cases currently pending in County Criminal Division “V” will be transferred to Circuit Criminal Division “V.”
The Honorable Gregory P. Holder has been assigned to this division. Judge Holder is particularly suited to the position because of his experience as a former Colonel of the United States Air Force Reserve (Retired), Military Judge assigned to the Eastern Circuit of the United States with jurisdiction over both Special and General Courts-Martial, and Assistant Staff Judge Advocate, United States Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
By combining the misdemeanor and felony cases into one special division assigned to Judge Holder, it is expected that a more effective and efficient system can be achieved. The Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa includes both a Pretrial Intervention Program component and a Post-Adjudicatory component.
The parameters of the program are to be set out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The administrative order provides that the State Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office have agreed to the terms and may modify the terms by stipulation after consultation with the Veterans Treatment Court Oversight Committee.
DUI Cases in Veterans Treatment Court?Within the past few weeks, the State Attorney’s Office has started finding DUI cases eligible for the program, although successful completion of the diversion program results in the ability to enter a plea to reckless driving instead of having the charges completely dismissed.
A reduction to a reckless driving instead of a DUI is already a common occurrence in the courtrooms in Hillsborough County, FL. The public defender or privately retained DUI defense attorney might decide to recommend that a client enter Veterans Treatment Court in a DUI case when a reduction to reckless driving is otherwise unlikely.
Although the Veterans Treatment Court for a DUI case can take a full twelve month to complete, it is expected that early termination options will be available after all special conditions are satisfied. Those special conditions can include DUI school, follow-up counseling, and community service.
Eligibility Requirements for Veterans Treatment CourtSeveral different requirements have been set for eligibility to enter and complete the Veterans Treatment Court including:
- The defendant must voluntarily agree to enter Veterans Treatment Court and waive his or her right to a speedy trial;
- The defendant must agree to give the court access to certain confidential medical and counseling records;
- The offense must qualify an “eligible criminal offense” which includes city and county ordinance violations, misdemeanor offenses, non-violent third degree felony offenses, or any other criminal charges to which the State Attorney’s Office consents other than a felony listed in section 948.06(8)(c), Florida Statutes;
- The defendant must be a veteran as defined by section 1.01, Florida Statutes or a service member as defined by section 250.01, Florida Statutes;
- The defendant must suffer from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological program; and
- The defendant must be eligible to receive services for evaluation and treatment planning through the Veterans Administration and Veteran Mentor Volunteer resources and support system or other court-approved state, local or federal resources.
Veterans Treatment Court Oversight CommitteeThe Veterans Treatment Court Oversight Committee will meet at least twice a year.
Members of the committee include a designee of the following:
- the Public Defender's Office;
- the State Attorney's Office;
- the Trial Court Administrator;
- the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office;
- the Chair of the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee;
- a representative of any other service provider identified by the State Attorney’s Office or the Public Defender’s Office;
- the Presiding Judge in Veterans Treatment Court;
- the Administrative Judge of the Veterans Treatment Court;
- the Administrative Judge of the Criminal Justice Division; and
- the Chief Judge.a representative of the Veterans Administrations.