Overview

The Salem County Prosecutor’s Office Veterans Diversion Program is for eligible veterans who are currently facing prosecution for certain non-violent offenses.  It is designed to divert the eligible veterans out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives. Once the eligible veteran has been screened, assessed, and approved for participation in the program, he/she will promptly begin a treatment regimen that is specific to his/her needs.

Mission

Our mission is to successfully habilitate the eligible veteran by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system and providing them with the tools they need to lead a productive and law-abiding lifestyle while improving mental health recovery and successful re -entry into the community.

How Diversion Occurs

Upon arrest, a law enforcement officer must inquire whether the person is an active servicemember, or has ever served in the armed forces of the United States. (See NJ Veterans Diversion Statute.[1]) If the person is an active or former servicemember or claims to be an active or former servicemember, it must be noted on the complaint-summons or complaint-warrant charging the defendant with a crime. A law enforcement officer, after consultation with the SCPO, may divert an eligible defendant in lieu of filing a complaint against that individual. However, the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute prohibits diversion in certain instances prior to the filing of a criminal complaint if the crime involves:

  • Restitution for damages;
  • Violence or threat of violence; (defined in NJ Veterans Diversion Statute)
  • A violation of any restraining or protective order involving another person; or
  • Where a victim of the offense objects to the diversion.

Diversion in this fashion may occur without the filing of criminal charges on the condition that the appropriate SCPO senior staff authorizes the decision.

Diversion for an eligible defendant can occur before or after the filing of a criminal complaint under the restrictions and conditions set forth herein.

Military Service Verification

Once a defendant claims current or former military service, it is incumbent upon him/her, with assistance of counsel where appropriate, to provide documentation of information that verifies such status. Acceptable forms are a validly issued Common Access Card (CAC), DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, retired ID card, a government agency-issued Veterans Identification Card, or other acceptable documentary evidence indicating former service status.

Eligible Offenses 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.

Criteria For Participation

  • Current or former veteran status must be verified.
  • Defendant must have some mental illness or condition that may have caused or contributed to his/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.
  • Current case must fall under the eligible offenses (see above).

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 Salem County Prosecutor’s Office 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 of the 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.

Program Structure

Defendants accepted into the Veterans Diversion Program shall agree in writing to a number of terms per the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, in addition to conditions set forth by the SCPO herein. 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 SCPO;
  • 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 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 SCPO of any change in address or change in case management or treatment provider; and
  • Any other terms and conditions set forth by the SCPO in interest of the defendant’s recovery and public safety.

Failure to comply with any of the conditions of the VDP will result in removal from the VDP and resumption of prosecution via the traditional criminal justice process.

As a condition of the VDP, periodic counseling and treatment updates must be provided in writing to the SCPO 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.

Participants will develop an individualized treatment plan.  Services for education, counseling, and other needs are provided by outside agencies. Participants are referred to these agencies throughout the program as needed.

Supervision Monitoring – A case manager will monitor each participant placed in the program. The case manager will work closely with the program manager and service providers.

Compliance Hearing – All participants are required to attend compliance hearings to be determined after evaluation. During the hearing, the progress of each participant is reviewed in open court.

Disposition of Court Case – The Veterans’ Court Diversion Program is a 6-to-24 month program. The period directly relates to the participant’s needs and/or compliance.  Upon successful completion of the program, the case(s) are dismissed.  In the event the agreement is terminated, the case(s) are remanded to the court of origin for continued prosecution. Per the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, the court shall review the status of these cases at least every six months from the date of admission into the VDP and, thereafter, every six months until completion of VDP.

Successful Completion of VDP

A veteran who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this program to the satisfaction of the prosecutor, 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 his/her charges dismissed.

In the case of dismissal of charges after successful completion of the VDP, the SCPO 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.

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 the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office Administration Unit Lieutenant at veterans2@salemcountynj.gov

Any additional questions regarding the program can be directed to Assistant Prosecutor Michael J. Forte at 856-935-7510 x8333.

DOWNLOADS

[1] See P.L. 2017, Chapter 42, Approved May 1, 2017 and effective December 1, 2017. This new law is codified in the New Jersey Criminal Code at 2C:43-23 to 2C:43-31 (Hereinafter, “The Veterans Diversion Statute”)