Veterans Helping Veterans Charged with Criminal Offense: Are You Eligible for the Valor Act?
What is the Valor Act? Statute 2012, c. 108, entitled “An Act Relative to Veterans’ Access, Livelihood, Opportunity and Resources,” also known as the Valor Act, became effective on May 31, 2012.
Section 16 of c. 108 adds §§ 10 and 11 to G.L. c. 276A to provide for the assessment and pretrial diversion of qualifying veterans, active service members, or persons with military history who are defendants in criminal cases.
Under G.L. c. 276A, § 10, the District Court has jurisdiction to divert to a program any person who is a veteran, active service member or person with military history
- charged with an offense against the Commonwealth for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed, regardless of age;
- has not previously been convicted of a violation of any law of the Commonwealth or any
other state or of the United States in any criminal court proceeding after having reached the age of 18 years, except for traffic violations for which no term of imprisonment may have been imposed; and
- does not have outstanding warrants, continuances, appeals or criminal cases pending before any courts of the Commonwealth or any other state or of the United States.
At arraignment, a District Court judge may offer a 14-day continuance to an eligible defendant to seek an assessment by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, or another state or federal agency with suitable knowledge and experience of veterans affairs. An initial determination of eligibility will be made with information provided to the court by the probation department.
The purpose of the assessment is “to provide the court with treatment options available to the defendant, including diversion programs, if appropriate.” G.L. c. 276A, § 11. Before offering a continuance, the court shall inquire into the circumstances of the charge. If the defendant accepts the court’s offer of a 14-day continuance, the defendant shall notify the court at arraignment.
The court, through the probation office, shall then direct the defendant to an assessment program, and shall require that the program provide the probation department and court with its findings, and specifically whether the defendant would benefit from participation in such program. If the defendant has demonstrated symptomatology suggestive of a mental illness, a qualified psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or physician shall, in consultation with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, or another federal or state agency, provide a written report to the court to assist in sentencing or diversion.
The court may consider the recommendations of any diagnosing or treating licensed mental health professional for the defendant for pretrial diversion or the imposition of a sentence. The court has a general power to add further time to the continuance if needed to complete the referral, assessment and report procedure. It is suggested that the court provide the defendant with a 30-day date to report back to the court. This is intended to provide adequate time for the completion of the assessment in the event that more than 14 days is required.
Once the assessment has occurred, the Valor Act is silent as to actual referral to a diversion program and the disposition of any criminal charges should the defendant complete any such program. If the court anticipates that the probation department will monitor defendant’s participation in any treatment program and report to the court on the defendant’s progress, the defendant should be placed on pretrial probation.
Are you a Veteran? Have you been charged with a crime? Do you think you may be eligible for the Valor Act? Don’t just hire any attorney!