Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL

VTC was first created in 2013 under the leadership of the Honorable Richard Weis. In 2015, the Honorable Gregory P. Holder assumed the responsibilities for VTC. 

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.

In 2017, the Honorable Michael J. Scionti took over the responsibilities for VTC. At the same time, Circuit Criminal Division "V" was established as the Veterans Treatment Court division handling all eligible cases. 

In 2019, the Hillsborough County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) graduated approximately 120 veterans. VTC address issued impacting veterans who enter the criminal justice system. The court infrastructure firmly in place identifies VTC candidates. 

According to Administrative Order S-2016-032, "[a]ny person whose charges are dismissed after successful completion of the Pretrial Intervention Program component of Veterans Treatment Court, if otherwise eligible, may have his or her arrest record of the dismissed charges expunged in accordance with section 943.0585, Florida Statutes." 

Petitions to Expunge for such defendants must be filed in Veterans Treatment Court and handled in accordance with section 32 of Administrative Order S-20 16-025 (Circuit Criminal Division Procedures) or any successor administrative orders. 

The stakeholders in VTC continue to seek additional legislative and grant funding to grow this program. From its inception, Hillsborough County’s Veterans Treatment Court proved to be successful. 

Administrative Orders for Veterans Treatment Court

The most recent changes to Veterans Treatment Court in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, were announced in Administrative Order S-2016-032.

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.

Both misdemeanor and felony cases will be funneled into one division - Circuit Criminal Division “V”. Any cases that were pending in County Criminal Division “V” were transferred to Circuit Criminal Division “V.”

By combining the misdemeanor and felony cases into one special division, it was 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 Court

Several different requirements have been set for eligibility to enter and complete the Veterans Treatment Court including:
  1. The defendant must voluntarily agree to enter Veterans Treatment Court and waive his or her right to a speedy trial;
  2. The defendant must agree to give the court access to certain confidential medical and counseling records;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. The defendant must suffer from a military service-related mental illness, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder, or psychological program; and
  6. 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 Committee

The 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.

Additional Resources for Veterans

Veterans Resource Guide for the Florida State Court System - Updated June 13, 2014, this guide includes information on Justice-Involved Veteran Programs including the Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) Initiative, Health Care for Re-Entry Veterans Program (HCRV), Vet Center Program, mental and physical health issues for vets, The T. Patt Maney Veterans’ Treatment Intervention Act, and a Sample Benefits Eligibility Questionnaire. 

Mentors for Hillsborough County Veterans - MHCV was established to support the success of Veterans Treatment Court in Hillsborough County by providing additional services and providing a platform for training. MHCV shares best business practices with other programs and promotes VTC legislation and reform.

This article was last updated on Monday, November 2, 2020.

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