It's Veteran's day, and trial lawyers in Illinois are grateful for the day off, as courts are closed. But while we join everyone today in honoring and showing gratitude to those who serve and have served, we want to take the opportunity to talk about Veterans dealing with criminal charges in Illinois courts.
Illinois has had law on the books since 2010 authorizing county courts to create a special court or program within their court system targeting the needs of Veterans and active Reserve and National Guard service members. Cook county and Lake county have established special court programs under the law, whereas DuPage county has developed a Veteran's "track" paired with their existing MICAP (mental health) and Drug Court programs.
In all cases, the idea is born of a recognition that some Veterans, reservists or active duty service members may suffer from issues like post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, mental illness like depression, or drug and alcohol addiction related to their service. Illinois lawmakers, realizing that some of those who serve sometimes later find themselves facing felony or misdemeanor charges, saw a responsibility to recognize that sometimes, the experiences of service are a contributing factor. Espescially when it comes to our servicemen and women, we have a responsibility to them and to the public to make extra efforts towards the rehabilitative aspect of the legal system before turning to punitive measures.
The process starts with the agreement of the prosecutor, the defendant and the Judge presiding over the case. Your lawyer needs a copy of your DD-214 service record for this part. If you don't have them handy, you can get them at the National Archives website. Then the court conducts a screening to determine eligibility. Those facing charges for violent criminal offenses don't make the cut, nor do defendants with convictions for violent crimes within the past 10 years. Violent crimes under the law include:
"first degree murder, second degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, armed robbery, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated kidnapping and kidnapping, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm or permanent disability, stalking, aggravated stalking, or any offense involving the discharge of a firearm or where occurred serious bodily injury or death to any person." 730 ILCS 167/20(b)(3)
If violent criminal charges aren't in the way, and the case charged is eligible for a probation sentence, the Defendant signs an agreement understanding that there's no guarantee of acceptance into the program, then undergoes an assessment for mental health and/or substance abuse issues. This usually includes a review of existing medical history.
Once a defendant is accepted into the program, the case is deferred pending treatment, counseling and monitoring within the system. At the end of things, the Court can dismiss the charges or agree to any modifications to the charges as agreed at the outset. This isn't an unreachable pipe dream, we've shepherded clients into Veteran's Court systems before with great success.
The moral of the story is that if you've served your country or are doing so now, and have run afoul of the law, don't keep your service a secret. Share that information with your local experienced criminal defense attorney, preferably one right here at Fagan, Fagan & Davis, and give us the opportunity to get you the attention and outcome appropriate to your case. If you need help in Cook county, Lake county or DuPage county courts, pick up the phone and call us now at 847-635-8200.