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Bill would, again, allow Nevada veterans in court program

A Nevada bill would allow veterans charged with violent crimes to, again, participate in a specialty treatment court.

Assembly Bill 222 — brought Wednesday before the Assembly Judiciary Committee by Chairman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas — would modify the Veterans Treatment Court, which provides an alternative to incarceration and offers services to veterans.

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in December that veterans with a history of violent-crime convictions, or those charged with one, are ineligible for the court. That would include charges such as robbery, domestic violence or battery.

“I believe our community will be less safe because defendants are not going to get the help that they need to integrate back into society,” Yeager said Wednesday. “Every day, people are applying and being categorically denied.”

In Clark County, 49 percent of the people in the program would not be eligible if they were to apply now, he said.

“A full 76 percent of those who have applied to veterans court have been denied, solely because of the Supreme Court’s opinion,” he said.

The bill highlights that if the defendant has been dishonorably discharged, been in the program before or has been charged with a felony, such as murder, sexual assault or kidnapping, they will not be eligible for assignment to the program.

“We’re not even getting past their charge or their history; we’re just having to turn them away,” said District Judge Linda Bell, who oversees the 18-month program. “I would anticipate in a year, at this rate, I would have 15 people in my Veterans Treatment Court.

“It is frustrating.”

Veterans in the court program must attend treatment sessions, counseling and appointments, develop goals for their future, obtain housing, be financially stable and be drug- and alcohol-free for a minimum of 90 days before graduation.

Terrance Hubert, 68, a Marine veteran who lives in Carson City, spoke to the committee in support of the bill. He said the Vietnam Veterans of America were excited when legislation passed in 2009 establishing the veterans court.

“Vets, sometimes we don’t act appropriately,” he said, referencing post-traumatic stress disorder. “The program has been highly successful, and I’m dismayed to hear that so many people are being rejected.”

John Jones, with the Nevada District Attorneys Association, opposes the bill, arguing that in most cases at the end of specialty treatment court, there is a dismissal or sealing of the charges.

“Mental health issues don’t stop when mental health court stops,” Jones said. “Law enforcement may want to see that there’s issues there …”

Assemblywoman Selena Torres, D-Las Vegas, argued that it would still be up to the judge to dismiss or seal records.

“Shouldn’t we have faith that our judges would have discretion?” she said.

Another hearing on the bill is set for Friday.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.

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