The Sussex County Prosecutor's Office (SCPO) is proud to announce the launch of a Veterans Diversion Program (VDP or Program) in Sussex County.
The purpose of the Program is to divert eligible servicemembers1 away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate case management and mental health services as early as possible following an interaction with law enforcement where the servicemember committed a non-violent third or fourth degree crime, disorderly persons, or petty disorderly persons offense. To be eligible for the VDP, the servicemember must either have a prior diagnosis of mental illness2 or there must be a reasonable basis to believe that the servicemember has a mental illness.
Similar to the SCPO's existing Mental Health Intervention Program, the VDP involves intensive supervision and monitoring of a servicemember's mental health treatment by applicable treatment providers and this Office. To the extent possible, the SCPO will also facilitate the assignment of a volunteer mentor3 to the servicemember in the Program. Participants must meet all diversion requirements to remain in the VDP, and the Program must be successfully completed within two years from the date of diversion.
Servicemembers admitted into the Program are expected to regularly attend counseling and, where applicable, receive mental health or substance abuse treatment in accordance with VDP conditions. As a condition of the VDP, periodic counseling and treatment updates must be provided in writing to the SCPO through counsel or by a participant. It is the responsibility of the participant to make sure that these updates or reports are forwarded. Compliance with the VDP conditions will be reviewed periodically at court appearances. Failure to comply with any of the conditions of the VDP will result in removal from the VDP and continuation of prosecution via the traditional criminal justice process.
A servicemember who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this Program to the satisfaction of the prosecutor, who 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 or her charges dismissed. Where charges were dismissed after a servicemember's successful completion of the VDP, the participant may apply for expungement following the issuance of an order of dismissal.
The SCPO retains sole discretion over who is admitted into the VDP. As in any execution of a Prosecutor-led diversionary program, the SCPO will consider a number of factors in determining a participant's application, including, but not limited to: The causative or contributory relationship between the person's diagnosed or apparent mental illness and the commission of the offense; the amenability of the servicemember to participating in the VDP conditions; the nature and circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense; the availability of case management and mental health services, 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.
The NJ Veterans Diversion Statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-26d, requires that a participant accepted into the VDP Program shall agree in writing to:
- Participate in case management and mental health services initiated through the Veterans Diversion Resource entity or other similar services and cooperate with any recommended course of treatment, including the use of medications as prescribed and participation in counseling;
- Authorize any case management or mental health service provider to release to the SCPO periodic status reports regarding the admitted participant's participation, cooperation, and recovery progress with case management and mental health services;
- 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 drugs, 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 mentor, where assigned, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Justice Outreach Specialist;
- Suspend the tolling of time for purposes of the participant's right to a speedy trial while the servicemember 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 the interest of the participant's recovery and public safety.
Attorneys who believe their clients may qualify for this Program should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a copy of the referral form, program application, and release. As part of the VDP application process, a participant is required to provide, with the assistance of counsel, documentation that verifies his or her status as a servicemember. Such documentation typically can be presented in the form of 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 current or former service status. Additional questions regarding the Program can be directed to Assistant Prosecutor Nikoletta Agouras at (973) 383-1570.
1 A "servicemember" is defined under the NJ Veterans Diversion Statute as "any veteran or enlisted person or officer of the United States Armed Forces, or a reserve component thereof, or the organized militia of the State of New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-23(1)(a)
2 Under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-23(1)(f), a "mental illness" is defined 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."
3 If you would like to be considered for a position as a VDP mentor, please visit https://www.nj.gov/military/veterans/diversion-program/