Effective June 7, 2019, Senate Bill 40 was signed into law establishing a Military Service Members Court. The new law grants authority to the State Supreme Court of Appeals (under the oversight of its administrator) to establish the court program as stand-alone courts or courts tangentially operating in conjunction with existing drug or specialty court programs. This is a pre-adjudication or post-adjudication program for adult offenders with a current or past military background (active duty, reserve, or National Guard) who are active duty or were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. The latter status allows courts to refer participants to treatment with the Veterans Administration as well as outpatient, inpatient, residential or jail-based treatment programs for mental health and substance use treatment. All court participants will be assessed by the Department of Veterans Justice Outreach and will make recommendations for treatment including a risk assessment. The court will otherwise operate in a similar manner (with treatment requirements, court appearances, and sanctions) to drug court. Judges presiding over these court programs may establish their own rules as long as they are in compliance with existing State Supreme Court rules. There are fees (to be determined) associated with participation in this court. Successful completion of the Military Services Members Court can result in withholding of criminal charges, dismissal, probation, deferred sentencing, suspended or split sentence, or reduction in incarceration time. Additionally, the presiding judge of this court may expunge any driving offenses that prevent the veteran offender from obtaining a West Virginia driver’s license if determined to be preventing program success.
Persons currently charged with or having a conviction of: sexual offenses; murder of or child abuse death or injury of a child; human trafficking; malicious assault; kidnapping; domestic violence; or DUI deferral are ineligible to participate in this court program.
Once established, termination of any program may not take place until at least six months after written notice of termination is provided to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate by the Supreme Court of Appeals Administrator.
The bill is available for review here.