A new California Senate bill would allow veterans to avoid a California DUI conviction with a treatment diversion program.
Senate Bill 725 would expand a current military diversion program. The bill, if passed, would provide veterans with the opportunity to receive treatment for issues stemming from their service and which often leads them to drink and drive. If the treatment program is completed successfully, veterans could have their case dismissed and avoid a California DUI conviction
To qualify, veterans must have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or other conditions related to their service.
The Legislative Counsel’s Digest on the bill states, “This bill would…specify that a misdemeanor offense for which a defendant [veteran] may be placed in a pretrial diversion program…includes a misdemeanor violation of driving under the influence or driving under the influence and causing bodily injury. The bill would not limit the authority of the Department of Motor Vehicles to take administrative action concerning the driving privileges of a person arrested for a violation of those provisions.”
Advocates, myself included, argue that the bill’s intent is rehabilitative and deals with the underlying causes of driving drunk.
“We want to get those people into treatment as early as possible. We don’t want them going out jeopardizing future victims,” said the executive director of the California Veterans Legal Task Force in San Diego. “Everybody on both sides of this thing is pro public safety.”
However, not all are fans including district attorneys and other prosecuting agencies.
“We’re very much pro-veteran and pro-treatment, but we want it to be balanced with the needs of public safety,” prosecutor Harrison Kennedy told NBC 7.
Among their primary complaints are that the bill does not address restitution to victims of DUI related collisions which cause injury and that the bill does not limit the number of times that a veteran offender can utilize the program.
“This creates potential for a dangerous cycle of diversion that jeopardizes the safety of our streets and highways,” said the California District Attorneys Association.
The bill does not affect the DMV’s ability to suspend a veteran offender’s license through the administrative action.
If the bill does not pass, veterans face the same consequences of a California DUI as the rest of the public; informal probation, a DUI program lasting three, six, or nine months, between $390 and $1,000 in fines and fees, possibly AA meetings, possibly a Mothers Against Drunk Driving lecture, possibly a hospital and morgue program, and possibly even jail.
The bill easily passed through the Assembly public safety committee last week and will soon be voted on by the full Assembly.