In California, individuals presently serving in the military, as well as veterans, who suffer from PTSD, trauma, or other mental health problems may be eligible for military diversion instead of jail time when accused of a misdemeanor crime. How is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) defined for purposes of a military pre-trial diversion program in California?
Military diversion is one of three forms of pretrial diversion authorized by California law. Defendants do not have to plead guilty or no contest to obtain diversion. Instead, the court will postpone the criminal prosecution of the charges while the defendant participates in an education and treatment program.
The military diversion program is usually only available to first-time offenders. Defendants with any prior convictions for the same offense are typically referred to Veteran’s Court, which provides greater structure and supervision than military diversion.
Common misdemeanor offenses include possession of drugs, DUI, and misdemeanor assault and battery. PC § 1001.80 applies to cases alleging the commission of a misdemeanor offense if both of the following apply to the defendant:
(1) The defendant was, or currently is, a member of the United States military.
(2) The defendant may be suffering from sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, or mental health problems resulting from his or her military service. Note that the disorder must have resulted from the defendant’s military service.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition experienced by some individuals who have experienced trauma such as combat or sexual assault. While some people recover from these types of experiences, others develop PTSD. Some may only experience “acute stress disorder,” that lasts two to three weeks. Symptoms of PTSD that last for more than a month and that seriously affect the ability to function should be addressed as soon as possible. Symptoms of PTSD typically begin within 3 months of a traumatic incident but may arise even years later.
To be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress order, an adult must have all the following symptoms for at least one month:
- At least one “re-experiencing” symptom (flashbacks, nightmares, and frightening thoughts)
- At least one “avoidance” symptom (staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event, and avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic experience).
- At least two “arousal and reactivity” symptoms (being easily startled, feeling tense, having difficulty sleeping, and having angry outbursts)
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms (trouble remembering important elements of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about self or the world, distorted feelings, such as guilt or blame, and loss of interest in activities).
Upon successful completion of the treatment and education program, the court will dismiss the charges against the defendant. If the defendant fails to complete the program, the criminal proceedings will resume. California also offers a similar mental health diversion program that allows participants to get their charges dismissed and criminal records sealed.
In the last decade, the State of California has moved toward reducing its jail and prison populations through pre-trial diversion programs. One program helps individuals who commit crimes that are low-level misdemeanor drug crimes avoid jail time. Mental health diversion and military diversion programs are also available. Instead of only focusing on punishment, these programs focus on helping individuals receive treatment for substance abuse, mental health problems, and military-related disorders. California pretrial diversion programs allow eligible defendants to avoid jail time by completing treatment and education courses.
If you are experiencing mental health issues that have caused you to be charged with a crime, the resolution of your matter through the California PC 1001.36 diversion program may be available as an option. John Patrick Dolan is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law, the highest achievement awarded by the State Bar of California to attorneys in the field of criminal law. Call today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.