On May 31, 2012, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law Senate Bill 2254, better known as the VALOR Act. See Governor’s Press Release. Among its many provisions, the VALOR Act gives the district courts and the Boston Municipal Courts the power to divert certain servicemen and veterans to treatment programs rather than prosecute them as alleged criminals. See G.L. c. 276A, § 10. Not every veteran charged with a crime qualifies for the special diversion program, and not every veteran who qualifies for the program should elect to participate in it. But the VALOR Act gives criminal defense attorneys a valuable option in defending criminal charges against qualifying veterans.
Why would someone charged with a crime wish to participate in a pretrial diversion program?
A pretrial diversion program is an alternative to handling a case through the criminal-justice system. Whereas a typical criminal case functions primarily to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, a pretrial diversion program focuses on treating, educating, or otherwise improving the accused’s life. There is no admission or finding of guilt and thus no criminal conviction.
Who qualifies for pretrial diversion under the VALOR Act?
To qualify for pretrial diversion under the VALOR Act, the accused must satisfy several requirements:
- First, the accused must be a veteran, be on active service in the U.S. armed forces, or have a history of military service in the U.S. armed forces. A Massachusetts statute defines these terms. See G.L. c. 4, § 7, clause 43.
- Second, the Commonwealth must have charged the accused with a crime punishable by imprisonment.
- Third, the Commonwealth must have charged the accused in a district court or a division of the Boston Municipal Court.
- Fourth, the accused must have no prior criminal convictions and no outstanding warrants, continuances, appeals, or criminal cases pending. There is an exception for convictions for traffic violations that carried no jail sentence.
- Fifth, the accused receives a program’s recommendation that he would benefit from participating in it.
See G.L. c. 276A, § 10.
How should a veteran request partipication in the program?
A veteran should notify his attorney, the probation department, and the court as soon as possible. If notified that an accused is a veteran, the probation department will attempt to verify the information at or before arraignment. See G.L. c. 276A, § 10.
A judge has the power to postpone further action on the case for fourteen days if presented with a veteran who may qualify for pretrial diversion. If granted the fourteen days, the accused may seek an assessment with federal or state agencies to determine whether an appropriate diversion program exists for him. The court will direct the accused to the appropriate assessment program. See G.L. c. 276, § 11.
What kind of diversion programs may be available?
One example of a pretrial diversion program is Mission Direct Vet. According to its website, Mission Direct Vet provides treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues as well as vocational and transitional residence programs. For more information, see the Veterans’ Services website.
For more information about whether you or a loved one may qualify for pretrial diversion, please feel free to call the criminal-defense attorneys at the Coughlin Law Group. We would be happy to discuss whether pretrial diversion is an available and appropriate option to resolve the criminal case.