California passes DUI diversion program for military members

California recently clarified that its military diversion treatment program is available to DUI offenders.

Military members are far more likely than the general population to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in turn can lead some active and former military members to make poor decisions that they often come to regret. Many would agree that veterans and active military members deserve a second chance if their PTSD led them to make a poor judgment call. That's why, as the Sierra Sun Times reports, California recently passed a law clarifying that its diversion program, which allows individuals to undergo treatment instead of incarceration, is available to military members who have been accused of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

California's diversion program

The latest law on California's DUI diversion program can trace its roots back to the veterans' treatment courts. Those courts allowed military members who were charged with a qualifying offense to plead guilty to the offense and if they completed a two- to three-year counselling program then those convictions would be dismissed.

While that program had much success, one problem with it was that because qualifying military members were still pleading guilty to crimes the program put them at risk of a less-than-honorable discharge and of losing important military benefits. That's why in 2014 California expanded the program so as to allow qualifying candidates to start treatment without having to enter a guilty plea. The revamped program also meant that those candidates could get much needed treatment earlier than would be the case if they had to wait to make a guilty plea.

DUI not specified

However, one problem with the 2014 expansion of the diversion program, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reports, is that it did not specify whether DUI qualified for diversion treatment. That meant that individual courts were tasked with determining whether a military member charged with DUI qualified for diversion. That made acceptance to the diversion program haphazard across the state for those charged with DUI.

With the signing of Senate Bill 725 by Gov. Edmund G. Brown in August 2017, however, that uncertainty has changed. The new law specifies that DUI does indeed qualify for the diversion treatment program. Candidates for diversion must have been diagnosed with PTSD, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, or some other issue connected to their military service. If they complete the program, then there is also a possibility of having the arrest itself removed from their records.

Criminal defense help

Being charged with DUI can be a frightening experience, especially since the loss of one's license and a potential criminal record can both have wide ranging ramifications, including making it hard to earn a living, find a place to live, or even attend college. However, as the above article shows, there are options for people who have been charged with DUI. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help individuals who are facing such charges understand what those options are and how they can best protect their rights and freedoms.