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Friday, October 24, 2008

Veterans and the criminal justice system

Minnesota Lawyer just posted an interesting story from our upcoming issue on the justice system's efforts to deal with post traumatic stress syndrome in criminal cases involving veterans. As one source puts it in the article, combat veterans can become "addicted to chaos" and have trouble readjusting to society when they return. It doesn't seem fair to treat these cases as every other criminal cases when some of the problem is caused by their time spent in service to us in some very difficult situations.

There are no easy answers, but, as more and more combat veterans return from overseas, it's something the justice system in Minnesota (and elsewhere) will have to grapple with with increasing frequency. Fortunately, we have a forward-thinking Legislature in this regard. The following is an excerpt from the story:

Fortunately, Minnesota is ahead of the curve when it comes to making concessions for veteran offenders. With help from veterans’ advocate Guy Gambill, the state Legislature this year amended a state statute to take into account the mental health status of veterans during the sentencing phase of criminal proceedings.

Now, if a defendant in Minnesota is convicted of a crime, it’s recommended that the court ask if he or she is a veteran. If the defendant is a veteran and has been diagnosed as having a mental illness, the court may consult with the federal or state Department of Veterans Affairs to determine treatment options in lieu of or along with a jail sentence.

Veterans have done a lot for us and deserve our help when they have adjustment troubles when they return. While our laws must be enforced, I am glad in Minnesota it will be done in a way that takes into account the trauma veterans have suffered in our behalf.

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