BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    Ó

                            Senator Loni Hancock, Chair              A
                             2011-2012 Regular Session               B

          AB 201 (Butler)                                             
          As Introduced January 27, 2011
          Hearing date: June 28, 2011
          Penal Code

                                    VETERANS COURTS  


          Source:  Vietnam Veterans of America-California Council
                   Student Veterans of California

          Prior Legislation:  AB 1295 (Salas) - 2010, Vetoed
                       AB 2671 (Salas) - 2008, Vetoed
                             SB 851 (Steinberg) - 2007, Vetoed
                                   AB 1542 (Parra) - 2006, Vetoed
                                   AB 2586 (Parra) - Ch. 788, Stats. 2006

          Support: National Association of Social Workers; American 
                   Legion-Department of California; AMVETS-Department of 
                   California; California Association of County Veterans 
                   Service Officers; Military Officers Association of 
                   America-California Council of Chapters; the State 
                   Independent Living Council; California Psychological 
                   Association; California Mental Health Directors 
                   Association;  Commissioner of Veteran's Affairs City 
                   and County of San Francisco; California Council of 
                   Community Mental Health Agencies; Mental Health 
                   Association in California; Veterans of Foreign Wars of 
                   the United States Department of California; California 
                   State Commanders Veterans Council; California Attorneys 
                   for Criminal Justice; Vietnam Veterans of America; 



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                   California State Council; California Commission on the 
                   Status of Women; Los Angeles County District Attorney's 

          Opposition:None known

          Assembly Floor Vote:  Ayes 74 - Noes 0

                                         KEY ISSUE



          The purpose of this bill is to authorize the establishment of 
          and suggest standards and procedures for veterans' courts that 
          would handle criminal cases involving mentally ill veterans. 

           Existing law  states that in the case of any person convicted of 
          a criminal offense who would otherwise be sentenced to county 
          jail or state prison and who alleges that he or she committed 
          the offense as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder 
          (PTSD), substance abuse, or psychological problems stemming from 
          service in a combat theater in the United States military, the 
          court shall, prior to sentencing, hold a hearing to determine 
          whether the defendant was a member of the military forces of the 
          United States who served in combat and shall assess whether the 
          defendant suffers from PTSD, substance abuse, or psychological 
          problems as a result of that service.  (Penal Code § 1170.9, 
          subd. (a).)

           Existing law  allows a defendant convicted of a criminal offense 
          who committed the offense as a result of PTSD, substance abuse, 
          or psychological problems stemming from service in a combat 



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          theater in the United States military, and if the defendant is 
          otherwise eligible for probation and the court places the 
          defendant on probation, the court may order the defendant into a 
          local, state, federal, or private nonprofit treatment program 
          for a period not to exceed that which the defendant would have 
          served in state prison or county jail, provided the defendant 
          agrees to participate in the program and the court determines 
          that an appropriate treatment program exists.  (Penal Code § 
          1170.9, subd. (b).)

           Existing law  provides for diversion from criminal prosecution 
          through a deferred entry of judgment (DEJ) and sentence when an 
          open case is before any court for specified violations of drug 
          possession, paraphernalia possession, being in the presence of 
          drug use, misdemeanor transportation of marijuana, or harvesting 
          of marijuana for personal use and it appears to the prosecuting 
          attorney that, all of the following apply to the defendant: 

           The defendant has no conviction for any offense involving 
            controlled substances prior to the alleged commission of the 
            charged offense;
           The offense charged did not involve a crime of violence or 
            threatened violence;
           There is no evidence of a violation relating to narcotics or 
            restricted dangerous drugs other than a violation of the 
            sections listed in this subdivision;
           The defendant's record does not indicate that probation or 
            parole has ever been revoked without thereafter being 
           The defendant's record does not indicate that he or she has 
            successfully completed or been terminated from diversion or 
            DEJ pursuant to this chapter within five years prior to the 
            alleged commission of the charged offense; and,
           The defendant has no prior felony conviction within five years 
            prior to the alleged commission of the charged offense. (Penal 
            Code § 1000.)  

           Existing law  effectuates July 1, 2001, except as specified, a 
          person convicted of a non-violent drug possession offense shall 



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          receive probation with completion of a drug treatment program as 
          a condition of probation.  (Penal Code §§ 1210, 1210.1, added by 
          Prop. 36, approved November 7, 2000.)

           Existing law  provides that certain defendants and parolees are 
          ineligible for the Substance Abuse Treatment Crime Prevention 
          Act of 2000 (SACPA), enacted by Proposition 36.  These 
          ineligible persons include persons who possessed drugs other 
          than for personal use; committed other offenses along with a 
          drug possession offense; used a firearm while in possession or 
          under the influence of heroin, cocaine or PCP; previously 
          convicted of a serious felony and have not been free of custody 
          or commission of felonies or dangerous misdemeanors within five 
          years (parolees may not have ever been convicted of a serious 
          felony); participated in two prior Proposition 36 treatment 
          programs; and refused treatment.  (Pen. Code § 1210.03.)

           Existing law  allows a superior court, with the concurrence of 
          the prosecuting attorney of the county, may create a "Back on 
          Track" deferred entry of judgment reentry program aimed at 
          preventing recidivism among first-time nonviolent felony drug 
          offenders.  No defendant who has been convicted of a violation 
          of a sex offense shall be eligible for the program established 
          in this chapter.  When creating this program, the prosecuting 
          attorney, together with the presiding judge and a representative 
          of the criminal defense bar selected by the presiding judge of 
          the superior court may agree to establish a "Back on Track" 
          deferred entry of judgment program pursuant to the provisions, 
          as specified.  The agreement shall specify which low-level 
          nonviolent felony drug offenses under the Health and Safety Code 
          will be eligible for the program and a process for selecting 
          participants.  The program shall have the following 

           A dedicated calendar;
           Leadership by a superior court judicial officer who is 
            assigned by the presiding judge;
           Clearly defined eligibility criteria to enter the program and 
            clearly defined criteria for completion of the program;



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           Legal incentives for defendants to successfully complete the 
            program, including dismissal or reduction of criminal charges 
            upon successful completion of the program; and,
           Close supervision to hold participants accountable to program 
            compliance, including the use of graduated sanctions and 
            frequent, ongoing appearances before the court regarding 
            participants' program progress and compliance with all program 
            terms and conditions.  The court may use available legal 
            mechanisms, including return to custody if necessary, for 
            failure to comply with the supervised plan;
           Appropriate transitional programming for participants, based 
            on available resources from county and community service 
            providers and other agencies.  The transitional programming 
            may include, but is not limited to, any of the following:
           Vocational training, readiness, and placement;
           Educational training, including assistance with acquiring a 
            GED or high school diploma and assistance with admission to 
           Substance abuse treatment;
           Assistance with obtaining identification cards and driver's 
           Parenting skills training and assistance in becoming compliant 
            with child support obligations; and,
           The program may develop a local, public-private partnership 
            between law enforcement, government agencies, private 
            employers, and community-based organizations for the purpose 
            of creating meaningful employment opportunities for 
            participants and to take advantage of incentives for hiring 
            program participants.  (Pen. Code § 1000.8.)

           Existing law  applies this chapter whenever a case is before any 
          court upon an accusatory pleading at any stage of the criminal 
          proceedings, for any person who has been evaluated by a regional 
          center for the developmentally disabled and who is determined to 
          be a person with a cognitive developmental disability by the 
          regional center, and who therefore is eligible for its services. 
           This chapter applies to any offense which is charged as or 
          reduced to a misdemeanor, except that diversion shall not be 
          ordered when the defendant previously has been diverted under 



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          this chapter within two years prior to the present criminal 
          proceedings.  (Pen. Code § 1001.21, subd. (a) and (b).)

           Existing law  mandates in any case in which a defendant has 
          fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of 
          probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of 
          the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, 
          in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that 
          a defendant should be granted the relief available under this 
          section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination 
          of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a 
          sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or 
          charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the 
          court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo 
          contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has 
          been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set 
          aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court 
          shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against 
          the defendant and except as noted below, he or she shall 
          thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities 
          resulting from the offense of which he or she has been 
          convicted, except as provided in existing law.  The probationer 
          shall be informed, in his or her probation papers, of this right 
          and privilege and his or her right, if any, to petition for a 
          certificate of rehabilitation and pardon.  The probationer may 
          make the application and change of plea in person or by 
          attorney, or by the probation officer authorized in writing.  
          However, in any subsequent prosecution of the defendant for any 
          other offense, the prior conviction may be pleaded and proved 
          and shall have the same effect as if probation had not been 
          granted or the accusation or information dismissed.  The order 
          shall state, and the probationer shall be informed, that the 
          order does not relieve him or her of the obligation to disclose 
          the conviction in response to any direct question contained in 
          any questionnaire or application for public office, for 
          licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with 
          the California State Lottery.  (Pen. Code § 1203.4, subd. (a).)
           This bill  establishes standards and procedures for veterans 



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          courts and specifies that county participation in the veterans' 
          courts program is voluntary.

           This bill  specifically provides that a veteran court shall have 
          the following objectives:

           Increase cooperation between the courts, criminal justice, 
            veterans, and substance abuse systems;
           Use a dedicated calendar or a collaborative mental health 
            program that will place as many mentally ill offenders who are 
            United States veterans in treatment as is consistent with 
            public safety.  The veterans served may include those with 
            post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, 
            military sexual trauma, substance abuse, or other mental 
            health problems stemming from military service;
           Improve access to necessary services and support;
           Reduce recidivism; and,
           Reduce the involvement of veterans in the criminal justice 
            system and time in jail by making mental health service for 
            veterans available in the least restrictive environment 
            possible while promoting public safety.

           This bill  specifies that a veterans court may have the following 
          characteristics and procedures:

           Leadership by a superior court judicial officer assigned by 
            the presiding judge;
           Enhanced accountability by combining judicial supervision with 
            rehabilitation services that are rigorously monitored and 
            focused on recovery;
           A problem-solving focus;
           A team approach to decision making;
           Integration of social and treatment services;
           Judicial supervision of the treatment process, as appropriate;
           Community outreach efforts; and,
           Direct interaction between defendant and judicial officer.
           This bill  provides that when establishing the veterans court the 
          county and court may develop a plan and may use the section 



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          created by this bill as a guideline. 
           This bill  recommends that when creating a plan, at least one 
          stakeholder should be a criminal justice client who is a veteran 
          who has lived with the experience of mental illness.  

           This bill  provides that the plan should consider addressing the 
          following components:

           The method by which the veterans court ensures that the target 
            population of defendants are identified and referred to the 
            veterans court.
           The method for assessing defendants who are veterans for 
            serious mental illness and co-occurring disorders.
           Eligibility criteria specifying what factors make the 
            defendant eligible to participate in the veterans court, 
            including service in the United States military, the 
            amenability of the defendant to treatment and the facts of the 
            case, as well as prior criminal history, United States 
            military service history, and mental health and substance 
            abuse treatment history.
           The elements of the treatment and supervision in programs.
           Standards for continuing participation in, and successful 
            completion of, the veterans court program.
           The need for the county mental health department and the drug 
            and alcohol department to provide initial and ongoing training 
            for designated staff on the nature of serious mental illness 
            and on the treatment and supportive services available in the 
           The process to ensure defendants will receive the appropriate 
            level of treatment services, the county and other local 
            agencies shall be obligated to provide mental health treatment 
            services only to the extent that resources are available for 
            that purpose.
           The process for developing or modifying a treatment plan for 
            each defendant, based on a formal assessment of the 
            defendant's mental health, United States military service 
            history, and substance abuse treatment needs.  Participation 
            in the veterans court shall require defendants to complete the 



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            recommended treatment plan, and comply with any other terms 
            and conditions that optimize the likelihood that the defendant 
            completes the program.
           The process for referring cases to the veterans court.
           A defendant's voluntary entry into the veterans court, the 
            right of a defendant to withdraw from the veterans court, and 
            the process for explaining these rights to the defendant.
           This bill  provides that in developing a veterans program, each 
          veterans court team, led by a judicial officer, may, to the 
          extent feasible, include, but not be limited to, a judicial 
          officer to preside over the court, prosecutor, public defender, 
          county mental health liaison, substance abuse liaison, county 
          veterans' service officer, probation officer, and Veterans 
          Administration social worker to assist the court with screening 
          veterans court candidates for eligibility and suitability in 
          Veterans Administration funded programs.  The veterans court 
          team will determine the frequency of ongoing reviews of the 
          progress of the offender in community treatment in order to 
          ensure the offender adheres to the treatment plan as 
          recommended, remains in treatment and completes treatment.

           This bill  expresses Legislative intent that a veterans court 
          judge use a variety of options for carrying out the goal to 
          ensure long-term public safety and that veterans courts are 
          intended to augment rather than replace other sections of the 


          For the last several years, severe overcrowding in California's 
          prisons has been the focus of evolving and expensive litigation. 
           As these cases have progressed, prison conditions have 
          continued to be assailed, and the scrutiny of the federal courts 
          over California's prisons has intensified.  



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          On June 30, 2005, in a class action lawsuit filed four years 
          earlier, the United States District Court for the Northern 
          District of California established a Receivership to take 
          control of the delivery of medical services to all California 
          state prisoners confined by the California Department of 
          Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR").  In December of 2006, 
          plaintiffs in two federal lawsuits against CDCR sought a 
          court-ordered limit on the prison population pursuant to the 
          federal Prison Litigation Reform Act.  On January 12, 2010, a 
          three-judge federal panel issued an order requiring California 
          to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of design 
          capacity -- a reduction at that time of roughly 40,000 inmates 
          -- within two years.  The court stayed implementation of its 
          ruling pending the state's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

          On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court upheld the 
          decision of the three-judge panel in its entirety, giving 
          California two years from the date of its ruling to reduce its 
          prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity, subject 
          to the right of the state to seek modifications in appropriate 
          In response to the unresolved prison capacity crisis, in early 
          2007 the Senate Committee on Public Safety began holding 
          legislative proposals which could further exacerbate prison 
          overcrowding through new or expanded felony prosecutions.     

           This bill  does not appear to aggravate the prison overcrowding 
          crisis described above.

          1.   Need for This Bill
          According to the author

               ÝThis bill] seeks to promote the development of 
               special veterans' courts throughout the state of 
               California. This measure is in response to the many 



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               returning veterans that fall through the cracks and 
               end up entangled in the courts system due to Post 
               Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), depression and 
               mental health related issues. These veterans' courts 
               would be able to develop locally coordinated court 
               supervised diversion and treatment programs to those 
               that qualify.

               Establishing special courts for veterans is one way to 
               help these men and women who have served our nation as 
               well as help reduce the financial and social cast to 
               the state.

          2.   Authorization for the Establishment of Veterans Courts  

          This bill authorizes counties to establish veterans courts.  It 
          sets objectives the courts shall have including increasing 
          cooperation between the courts, criminal justice, veterans and 
          substance abuse systems with the ultimate goal being improving 
          supports of veterans and reducing recidivism and thus increasing 
          public safety.  Unlike prior bills, this bill sets forth 
          characteristics for the veterans court that a county may 
          consider but is not required to directly follow.  This bill also 
                                                  suggests but does not require who shall take part in the 
          collaborative process to develop the veterans court plan.

          This bill is largely modeled on the drug-court, collaborative 
          courts model.  In such a model, the court, prosecutors, counsel, 
          probation, service providers and the defendant work as a 
          collaborative team to solve problems presented by a defendant's 
          case.  The court provides close supervision of the defendant 
          through relatively numerous court appearances.  In a usual 
          probation matter, the court places the defendant on probation 
          and only sees the defendant again if he or she has failed on 
          probation.  The drug court model has been adapted to other 
          circumstances, include parole reentry courts.  (Penal Code § 
          3015.)  This bill applies the model to the particular problems 
          experienced by veterans in the criminal justice system.



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          3.  UCSF and San Francisco VA Medical Center Study on Veterans and 

           An article appearing in Science Daily (online) on March 13, 
          2007, discussed a study conducted by the University of 
          California-San Francisco and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs 
          Medical Center finding that approximately one-third of veterans 
          returning from Iraq received one or more mental health or 
          psychosocial diagnoses.  The study appeared in the Journal of 
          the American Medical Association and Archives Journals.  Another 
          study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004 
          stated that the rate of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) 
          among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans increased in a linear manner 
          with increased exposure to combat.  (Hoge, Combat Duty in Iraq 
          and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care 
          (2004) 351 N. Engl. J. Med. 13-22.)



          Studies also indicate that PTSD may drive or exacerbate drug and 
          alcohol abuse by veterans.  (Stress & Substance Abuse: A Special 
          Report, National Institute on Drug Abuse (Sept. 12, 2005).)  
          Mental health and substance abuse problems are linked to future 
          incarceration in veterans.  In a Bureau of Justice study, 35% to 
          45% of incarcerated veterans reported symptoms of mental health 
          disorders in the previous 12 months, including mania, psychotic 
          disorders, and major depressive episodes.  (Noonan & Mumola, 
          U.S. Dep't of Justice, Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 
          2004 (2007), p. 6.)  Three-quarters of veterans in state prisons 
          reported past drug use and one-quarter reported being on drugs 
          at the time of the offense for which they were incarcerated.  
          (Id. at p. 5.)  Veterans are also more likely than non-veterans 
          to report past intravenous drug use.  (Ibid; See also Badkhen, 
          Shelters Take Many Vets of Iraq, Afghan Wars, Boston Globe (Aug. 
          7, 2007).)

          Veterans appear to be disproportionately represented in the 
          prison population. Veterans make up 10% of state prisoners.  
          (Noonan & Mumola, supra, at p. 1.)  By 2004, veterans of the 
          current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan already comprised 4% 
          of the veterans in state and federal prisons.  (Ibid.)

          Studies have concluded approximately two-thirds of mentally ill 
          prisoners receive no treatment.  (James & Glaze, U.S. Dep't of 
          Just. Bureau of Just. Stats. Mental Health Problems of Prison 
          and Jail Inmates (Sept. 2006) pp. 1, 9.)   Providing meaningful 
          mental health treatment has been shown to significantly reduce 
          recidivism rates, with studies showing decreases of over 20%.  
          (Wash. State Inst. For Pub. Policy, Evidence-Based Policy 
          Options to Reduce Future Prison Construction, Criminal Justice 
            Costs, and Crime Rates (2006).)
          4.  Argument in Support
          The State Independent Living Council supports this bill stating:

               Over the past decade the number of mentally ill 
               veterans has greatly increased throughout the United 
               States and the numbers continue to increase. 



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               Approximately 20% of returning forces are likely to 
               suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and 
               additionally 320,000 returning veterans may have 
               traumatic brain injuries. In addition, SILC has found 
               that veterans with disabilities, specifically those 
               with traumatic brain injuries, are an underserved and 
               underrepresented group in California.  With these 
               findings it is important that issues that face 
               returning veterans are addressed. The state 
               authorizing the superior courts to develop a veterans' 
               court with the objective of a court-supervised 
               veteran's mental health program is a step in the right 
               direction. The program would allow for treatment 
               instead of punishment, for an illness/injury that 
               these brave men and women obtained in service of our 

               The Council considers this bill to be an important 
               step in ensuring that we continue to support our