Texas DA, Lawmaker Disagree on “Veterans Court“

Texas DA, Lawmaker Disagree on "Veterans Court"

A Texas district attorney and a state senator differ on how a veterans court should be implemented in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) was quoted in The Houston Chronicle as wanting veterans to speak up about what they think about Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed’s opposition to having a pretrial diversion in veterans court.

“I’m quite concerned” over Reed’s opposition, Van de Putte told the Chronicle. “My suggestion is, let’s let the veterans in this state speak up. If they think that it’s a good idea, and they certainly have, then maybe we can convince our district attorney.”

A new law permits some veterans who get in trouble with the law to receive treatment and other services under major supervision instead of going through the regular court system.

Veterans are eligible if they have a brain injury, mental illness or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), linked to their military service and it affected the criminal conduct in their cases.

Those who complete the pretrial diversion program can have their charges dropped and their records expunged.

Cliff Herberg, first assistant district attorney in Bexar County, said Reed’s opposition to having a pretrial diversion in veterans court has been mischaracterized in some news stories as being anti-veterans court, but he said that isn’t the case. Rather, she is opposed to setting up a pretrial diversion program that would drop veterans’ criminal records before they get therapy.

Reed favors having veterans go through the regular court system and get “special attention, consideration for probation and access to services,” the Chronicle reported.

“We don’t have an opposition to veterans court,” Herberg said. “We are working to create a veterans court. We are part of the program.” He said Reed opposes the structure of a pretrial diversion program. “We do not have a pretrial diversion for anyone in the district attorney’s office other than juveniles,” he said. “Pretrial diversion is basically if you let them go scot-free if they stay out of trouble for a few months.”

He said that with a pretrial diversion setup, it would let “violent offenders all the way on down to misdemeanors” be released without supervision. “We’re not supportive of that, but we are consistent with other district attorneys’ offices in the state that are studying veterans courts, so we’re no different than they are.”

All of the other components widely discussed are in place, such as mental health counseling, Herberg said. He said that their veterans’ status would be taken into consideration.

He said the DA doesn’t favor pretrial diversion because it would drop charges and eliminate the criminal record from child abusers, domestic violence cases and people charged with driving under the influence (DUI).

Herberg said that different victims’ groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and a battered women’s shelter, they talked to also think it is a bad idea to have a pretrial diversion program. He said that is partly because if child abusers’ criminal records are expunged, then placing children in safe homes could become more difficult.

“We are working on a veterans court,” Herberg said. He said the county would look at veterans’ cases one by one and use leniency if needed. However, he said, “We are not going to have just a uniform program that just funnels people out into the system without any accountability.”