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Inside Look: Sacramento County Court Gives Veterans In Trouble With The Law A Second Chance

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — As he counts the number of defendants ready to go before him, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David Abbott knows what he’s about to do is being watched very closely.

He’s made a pledge to be a part of a pilot program in Sacramento presiding over a special courtroom designed exclusively from the men and women who have fought for our country.

“They served their country; they did so honorably,” he said,” and we care about that in addressing the problems that they are having now.”

Problems that lead to crimes being committed, including domestic abuse, drug use, or assault. Instead of being thrown in jail, the veterans are thrown a lifeline, a second-chance. But there’s a catch.

“The qualifying condition is they have some type of mental ailment or illness that was caused by or resulted from their military service,” Abbott said.

That’s anything from post-traumatic stress disorder to substance abuse to a traumatic brain injury to anxiety.

Giving CBS13 a rare peek inside, the judge asked us not to show the defendants’ faces. But as he looks into their eyes, he reminds the veterans that this is no free pass. They need to graduate from a strict, 18-month program.

As long as their crimes are considered nonviolent, they’re not a registered sex offender, and have no prior felony convictions, their records can be expunged.

Veterans in trouble have to appear before the judge every two to four weeks, undergo counseling, and they’re assigned a mentor. Those mentors sit in the jury box, ready to help.

“There’s a huge need for it here,” said mentor Paul Richardson. “This county has a large veterans population, and there’s a demand for this service.”

Abbott is confident the special court will help break a cycle where veterans returning from service experience difficulties that sometimes turn into criminal conduct.

The special court isn’t costing extra money to run currently, as the mentors are volunteers. If the program is a success, money from a special grant will pay for it.

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