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North Carolina's Veterans Treatment Court

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The State of North Carolina has recently joined a growing contingent of states to address the surging numbers of veterans entering the criminal justice system by opening a Veterans Treatment Court. Considering that North Carolina contains massive military installations such as Fort Bragg and Camp Lejune (and recent estimates indicate that nearly 35% of North Carolinians are active duty military, veterans, or dependents), the institution of a Veterans Treatment Court in North Carolina is of paramount importance and provides an incredible tool to defense attorneys throughout the State.

The program, which is funded by a grant from Governor Pat McCrory's Crime Commission, will focus on former service members who enter the criminal justice system after struggling with common post-service mental and physical problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The Treatment Court will incentivize participants to turn their lives around by requiring an extremely intensive form of probation supervision and treatment in exchange for reduced or dismissed criminal charges upon successful completion. From a defense standpoint, entry into the program will likely be governed by agreement with the applicable district attorney's office prosecuting the underlying criminal charges, similar to other deferred prosecution programs already in existence.

According to my recent conversation with program coordinator Mark Teachey in Harnett County, the program contains five phases and takes approximately 15 to 24 months to complete if the participant is fully compliant with no violations.

The program is not for the faint of heart as it requires the defendant to appear before the Treatment Court judge up to once per week for the first 24 weeks of the program. However, one extremely beneficial aspect of the program for defendants around the State is that your particular county need not have a Veterans Treatment Court in order for the case to be referred to the program. There is already one notable success story of a Mecklenburg County DWI defendant successfully completing the program in Harnett County, but obviously this requires frequent travel for both the defendant and defense counsel.

Eligibility for the program is based on the severity of the offense charged and the type of discharge the participant received from the military. In my conversation with Mr. Teachey, he indicated that the program accepts defendants charged with H/I felonies as well as misdemeanors, meaning that the large majority of veterans charged with low to mid grade drug offenses should be eligible.

The North Carolina School of Government's Jamie Markham recently blogged on this topic on the school's popular Criminal Law Blog, noting that

"[l]egally, veterans treatment courts are probably therapeutic courts as defined in G.S. 7A-272(f)-'a court, other than drug treatment court . . . , in which a criminal defendant, either as a condition of probation or pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement under G.S. 15A-1341, is ordered to participate in specified activities designed to address underlying problems of substance abuse and mental illness that contribute to the person's criminal activity.'"

The Treatment Court has already enjoyed a successful first year at the pilot program in Harnett County, which graduated its first class of successful veterans in November 2014. The second Veterans Treatment Court recently opened in Cumberland County, and there are plans to add up to ten additional locations in 2015, with preference going to counties containing the State's larger VA Medical Centers, such as Durham.

If you or someone you know is a veteran who has been charged with a crime in North Carolina, contact criminal defense attorney Kevin Marcilliat for a free consultation. Kevin Marcilliat is a skilled criminal attorney who defends clients charged with DWI, drug offenses, and property crimes, among others, in state and federal courts throughout North Carolina. To contact criminal lawyer Kevin Marcilliat, please contact the law firm or call 866-630-2389 for a free consultation. Roberts Law Group can also be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/nc.criminal.defense.

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