The 2012 Amendment Which Improved PC1170.9

Legislative efforts made in 2012, spearheaded by CVLTF and supported by other veterans organizations, sought to address shortfalls in Penal Code §1170.9, most notably the elements within the law which had been inhibiting veterans from seeking treatment in lieu of custody.  Many veterans who have been convicted of criminal activity have never before been before a court. This is their first offense and they have chosen a relatively light sentence over the more challenging 12-18 month treatment regimens and monitoring. Because traditional sentencing and sentencing under Penal Code §1170.9 both required convictions, there was little incentive for a veteran to accept treatment.  In fact, for most veterans, treatment was a disincentive, not something they sought (and this is still generally true). Compared to incarceration, treatment was a much longer and more arduous path that included having to engage in therapy about issues that most veterans would prefer to avoid.  Without incentives, most have been reluctant to admit they have a problem and choose treatment over incarceration.

AB2371, the amendment to PC §1170.9, has updated this remarkable law and given veteran offenders a new perspective and a powerful incentive: Judges are now authorized to grant relief to veterans by enabling those who have completed treatment regimens to return to their communities and seek employment without the legal requirement to report the arrest or criminal conviction which brought them to the veterans treatment court. Veterans themselves can recognize that by including this provision in the law, the state has attached a very special classification to veteran mental health conditions. And for those still unwilling to acknowledge that their actions are a result of their illness, veterans advocates have a powerful new tool to persuade veterans to seek treatment; treatment which can cure their symptoms and keep them from committing additional crimes.

As a result of other changes in this amendment, judges may grant some very nontraditional relief if they find that the veteran has met specific criteria and was successful, is law abiding and does not represent a danger to self or others.  A formal motion must be brought wherein evidence is heard, any victim has the right to appear and address the court, and the entire monitoring history is reviewed.  If the judge finds that the veteran-offender has met the difficult criteria outlined in the statute, an order to dismiss the case and seal the court and arrest records may result.  This allows a veteran who has been successful in overcoming his mental health challenges to obtain employment, seek jobs that otherwise would be denied him, and be returned to their former law-abiding selves. 

While data shows that judicial monitoring under PC §1170.9 is consistently successful, the collateral consequences of a criminal record are significant and contribute to unemployment, underemployment and homelessness for these rehabilitated veterans. This population is especially prone to the collateral consequences of criminal convictions due to the fact their skills are typically tied to jobs in government, schools, and in security.

Other than avoiding incarceration, which may be very short term especially given the advent of AB109 Realignment (restructuring of the California prison system), there had been no provision in Penal Code §1170.9 that allowed a monitoring judge to legally recognize the hard work and intense scrutiny an offender undergoes during the monitoring program.

The restorative provisions of this amendment to PC §1170.9 will prevent homelessness and create safer communities by reducing crimes that would have likely been committed had these veterans not received treatment for their traumatic conditions.

This relief specifically applies only to criminal offenders where a judge fully considers all facts of the case from both prosecution and defense, hears from any victims involved, and makes an informed conscientious decision to put the offender on probation.   It does not apply to anyone whom a judge with that information does not see as worthy of probation, including those considered dangerous to communities.  If the veteran returns to criminal activity, the prior offense can be included in his record.

CVLTF provided public and legislator education, VTRC data analysis, research and expert testimony in the drafting and review of Assembly Bill 2371 in the California Legislature.  CVLTF is proud to join other veterans and public safety advocates in this legislative change to enable restorative relief for California veterans.