The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO) is pleased to announce the launch of a Veterans Diversion Program (VDP) in Camden County.
The purpose of this Veterans Diversion Program is to provide a collaborative partnership between the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, local law enforcement agencies, Veterans Administrators, State and County Agencies, community-based organizations and medical treatment facilities to identify eligible veteran-defendants at their earliest contact with the criminal justice system, determine whether their issues can be attributed to PTSD, TBI, substance abuse, or psychological problems, and divert their cases to a treatment based early intervention program. Our goals are to protect the public, reduce Veteran contacts with the criminal justice system, provide Veterans with needed services and support and reduce costs to the public.
The Program is open to any Camden County resident who is a “service member”, which is defined as any veteran or active duty military person, who suffers from mental illness. The Program is limited to “eligible offenses” as listed in the statute, which are non-violent, petty disorderly persons, disorderly person offenses or crimes of the third or fourth degree.
The Program involves supervision and monitoring of a veteran’s treatment by an applicable treatment provider, the Veterans Administration (VA), this Office, and a volunteer mentor assigned to support the veteran. Participants must meet all diversion requirements to remain in the VDP, and the Program must be successfully completed within two years from the date of diversion. Veterans admitted into the Program are expected to regularly attend counseling and, where applicable, receive mental health or substance abuse treatment in accordance with VDP conditions. A veteran who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this Program to the satisfaction of the CCPO, has not been the subject of any subsequent criminal charges and continues to make progress with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment shall have their charges dismissed.
How Diversion Would Occur?
Camden County Law Enforcement Agencies will be able to identify service members upon initial contact and inquire if the service member suffers from a qualifying mental illness. Where charges are filed, the complaint will be marked to indicate the defendant is a service member to ensure future efforts to divert eligible service members from prosecution and into appropriate diversionary programs.
Once a complaint is received by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, we will review the criminal charges, make charging decisions, and work with the service members to resolve the criminal case. All screening decisions are at the sole discretion of the Prosecutor’s Office. A service member, or their attorney, may apply at any time to be considered for participation in the program. Service members who are found to be appropriate candidates will initially be given the opportunity to participate in the Pre Trial Intervention (“PTI”) program where eligible. Should they be ineligible for PTI, but otherwise accepted into the Veterans Diversion Program, there will be referrals made for services. Service members may be permitted to participate more than once in the program at the sole discretion of the CCPO.
Once a service member is accepted into a diversionary program, the CCPO will move before the court to have the proceedings postponed while services are in process. The matter will be reviewed in court every six months, not to exceed two years. At any point after the first six months, the CCPO may move to have the charges dismissed and the service member’s participation successfully ended. Alternatively, where the service member is not successfully participating in the program requirements, the CCPO will give notice to the court that we are prepared to move forward with the prosecution of the offenses.
Volunteer Mentors will assist and support veteran-defendants. They will guide, encourage and assist their mentees with their individual treatment plans. A Mentor would need to be a veteran of one of the branches of the United States Armed Forces and would have had to serve in the same branch as his or her mentee.
How Can Servicemember Status Be Verified?
Once a defendant claims current or former military service, it is incumbent upon them, with assistance of counsel where appropriate, to provide documentation or information that verifies such status. Typically, this will be presented in the form of a validly issued DD-214 or other acceptable documentary evidence indicating former service status.
What Offenses are Eligible for Diversion?
Ordinarily, any non-violent third or fourth degree crime, disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense is eligible for diversion under this program. Servicemembers charged with other offenses may, depending on compelling circumstances surrounding the criminal offense and at the sole discretion of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, also be deemed eligible to participate in this program.
What Does an “Eligible” Defendant Mean?
Verification of a defendant’s current or former veteran status is the first step in determining eligibility for the VDP. After service is verified, a defendant must be deemed “eligible” for entry into the VDP. To be eligible, a defendant must have some mental illness or condition that may have caused or contributed to his or her commission of the offense. A “mental illness” is defined under the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute as “a mental disorder classified within the current version of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and includes, but is not limited to, anxiety disorders, cognitive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, adjustment disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
While a defendant may be deemed eligible for the VDP, the decision to accept the defendant into the program is at the sole discretion of the CCPO after considering a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
- The extent of causative or contributory relationship between the person’s diagnosed or apparent mental illness and the commission of the offense;
- The amenability of the defendant to participating in the VDP conditions;
- The nature and circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense(s);
- The desires of any victim;
- The person’s history of prior convictions; and
- The likelihood that diversion will promote the person’s recovery, prevent future criminal behavior, and ensure public safety.
What Happens After an Eligible Defendant is Accepted into the VDP?
A defendant accepted into the VDP program shall agree in writing to a number of terms as set forth in the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, in addition to other conditions set forth by the CCPO. Specifically, a defendant must agree to:
- Participate in case management and mental health services through an applicable veterans diversion resource entity, and comply with any recommended course of treatment;
- Authorize any case management or treatment provider to release periodic status reports regarding the admitted defendant’s participation to the CCPO;
- Cooperate with case management service providers to procure housing, education and employment services, where appropriate;
- Pay restitution for damages resulting from the offense;
- Refrain from the use of alcohol or illegal narcotics, or frequent any place where such items are sold or used;
- Refrain from the possession or use of firearms or other weapons;
- Refrain from further criminal activity;
- Refrain from any uninvited contact with a victim of the offense;
- Cooperate with a designated mentor assigned by a veterans diversion resource entity;
- Suspend the tolling of time for purposes of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial while the defendant is participating in the VDP;
- Advise the CCPO of any change in address or change in case management or treatment provider; and
- Any other terms and conditions set forth by the CCPO in the interest of the defendant’s recovery and public safety.
As a condition of the VDP, periodic counseling and treatment updates must be provided in writing to the CCPO through counsel or by a defendant. It is the responsibility of the defendant to make sure that these updates or reports are forwarded by the VA or other treatment provider.
As set forth in the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, the court shall review the status of deferred prosecutions under the VDP at least every six (6) months from the date a defendant was admitted into the VDP and, thereafter, every 6 months until completion of the VDP.
What Happens After Successfully Complying with the VDP Conditions?
A veteran who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this program to the satisfaction of the CCPO, has not been the subject of any subsequent criminal charges and continues to make progress with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment shall have their charges dismissed.
In the case of dismissal of charges after successful completion of the VDP, the CCPO will move before the Court for the expungement of all records and information relating to the arrest, charge and diversion at the time of dismissal. Alternatively, a defendant who successfully completed the VDP may apply for expungement following the issuance of an order of dismissal if an expungement was not granted at the time of dismissal.
What Happens If a Veteran Fails to Comply with the VDP Conditions?
If, at any time after admission into the VDP, the prosecutor determines that the servicemember has failed to comply with any term or condition of the diversion agreement, the prosecutor may notify the court that it is prepared to proceed with the prosecution and the court shall schedule court proceedings as appropriate.
How to Apply
Attorneys who believe their clients may qualify for this program should complete the VDP Application form and VDP Medical Release form . The completed forms should then be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any additional questions regarding the program can be directed to Assistant Prosecutor Matt Spataro at (856) 225-8685.