The Office of the Hudson County Prosecutor has instituted a Veterans Diversion Program for eligible residents within Hudson County. Under the VDP, as codified in the New Jersey Criminal Code at N.J.S.A. 2C:43-23 to 2C:43-31, veterans who are charged with certain non-violent crimes may be eligible for diversion to rehabilitative treatment in lieu of the traditional criminal justice process. The program involves intensive supervision and monitoring of a veteran’s treatment by an applicable treatment provider, the Veterans Administration, and the Prosecutor’s Office. Participants must meet all diversion requirements to remain in the VDP, and ordinarily, the program must be successfully completed within two years from the date of diversion. Upon successful completion of the VDP, the participant may have their charges dismissed.
To be eligible for the VDP, the applicant must be an active or former member of the United States armed forces, a reserve component thereof, or an organized militia of the State of New Jersey who has been discharged or released from active service under conditions other than dishonorable, and the charges must have some causal relation to their military service. Only non-violent, third-degree and fourth-degree crimes are eligible for diversion under this program. Veterans charged with more serious crimes, or who were previously convicted of a violent crime, will be deemed ineligible for VDP participation. In addition, offenses involving domestic violence are presumptively ineligible for diversion. See N.J.S.A. 2C:43-26b for more details on charges that are eligible for diversion. The Prosecutor’s Office retains sole discretion over who is admitted into the VDP in accordance with N.J.S.A. 2C:43-26(b)(1) .
The first step in determining eligibility for the VDP is verification of a defendant’s current or former veteran status. It is incumbent upon a defendant, with assistance of counsel, to provide documentation or information that verifies the defendant’s veteran status. Typically, this can be presented in the form of a validly issued Common Access Card, DD-214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, retired identification card, and government agency issued Veterans Identification Card, or other acceptable documentary evidence indicating former service status. Information about your Military Service Records can be obtained at: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records
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 New Jersey Veterans Diversion Statute as “a mental disorder classified within the current version of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, including, but not limited to, anxiety disorders, cognitive disorders, adjustment disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
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 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 fulfilling the VDP conditions;
- the nature and circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense;
- the desires of any victim;
- the person’s history of prior convictions;
- the likelihood that diversion will promote the person’s recovery, prevent future criminal behavior, and ensure public safety; and
- the availability of other dispositions, such as Pre-Trial Intervention or Drug Court, that may better suit the needs of the defendant, any victims or the public.