(1) The Legislature recognizes that our military veterans have provided an invaluable service to our country. In doing so, many may have suffered the effects of, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and depression, and may also suffer drug and alcohol dependency or addiction and co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse problems. As a result of this, some veterans come into contact with the criminal justice system and are charged with felony offenses. There is a critical need for the justice system to recognize these veterans, provide accountability for their wrongdoing, provide for the safety of the public, and provide for the treatment of our veterans. It is the intent of the Legislature to create a framework for which specialized veterans treatment courts may be established at the circuit court level and at the discretion of the circuit court judge.
(2) Authorization. A circuit court judge may establish a Veterans Treatment Court program. The Veterans Treatment Court may, at the discretion of the circuit court judge, be a separate court program or as a component of an existing drug court program. At the discretion of the circuit court judge, the Veterans Treatment Court may be operated in one (1) county within the circuit court district, and allow veteran participants from all counties within the circuit court district to participate.
(3) Eligibility. (a) In order to be eligible to participate in a Veterans Treatment Court program established under this section, the attorney representing the state must consent to the defendant's participation in the program. Further, the court in which the criminal case is pending must have found that the defendant is a veteran of the United States Armed Forces as defined in Title 38 USCS.
(b) Participation in the services of an alcohol and drug intervention component shall only be open to the individuals over whom the court has jurisdiction, except that the court may agree to provide the services for individuals referred from another Veterans Treatment Court. In cases transferred from another jurisdiction, the receiving judge shall act as a special master and make recommendations to the sentencing judge.
(c)(i) As a condition of participation in a Veterans Treatment Court, a participant may be required to undergo a chemical test or a series of chemical tests as specified by the Veterans Treatment Court program. A participant may be held liable for costs associated with all chemical tests required under this section. However, a judge may waive any fees for testing.
(ii) A laboratory that performs chemical tests under this section shall report the results of the tests to the Veterans Treatment Courts.
(d) A person does not have the right to participate in a Veterans Treatment Court program under this chapter. The court having jurisdiction over a person for a matter before the court shall have the final determination about whether the person may participate in the Veterans Treatment Court program.
(e) A defendant shall be excluded from participating in a Veterans Treatment Court program if any one (1) of the following applies:
(i) The crime before the court is a crime of violence as set forth in paragraph (c) of this subsection.
(ii) The defendant does not demonstrate a willingness to participate in a treatment program.
(iii) The defendant has been previously convicted of a felony crime of violence including, but not limited to: murder, rape, sexual battery, statutory rape of a child under the age of sixteen (16), armed robbery, arson, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, stalking, or any offense involving the discharge of a firearm or where serious bodily injury or death resulted to any person.
(f) The court in which the criminal case is pending shall allow an eligible defendant to choose whether to proceed through the Veterans Treatment Court program or otherwise through the justice system.
(g) Proof of matters under this section may be submitted to the court in which the criminal case is pending in any form the court determines to be appropriate, including military service and medical records, previous determinations of a disability by a veteran's organization or by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, testimony or affidavits of other veterans or service members, and prior determinations of eligibility for benefits by any state or county veterans office.
(4) Administrative Office of Courts. With regard to any Veterans Treatment Court established under this article, the Administrative Office of Courts may do the following:
(a) Ensure that the structure of the intervention component complies with rules adopted under this chapter and applicable federal regulations.
(b) Revoke the authorization of a program upon a determination that the program does not comply with rules adopted under this chapter and applicable federal regulations.
(c) Enter into agreements and contracts to effectuate the purposes of this chapter with:
(i) Another department, authority, or agency of the state;
(ii) Another state;
(iii) The federal government;
(iv) A state-supported or private university; or
(v) A public or private agency, foundation, corporation, or individual.
(d) Directly, or by contract, approve and certify any intervention component established under this chapter.
(e) Require, as a condition of operation, that each veterans court created or funded under this chapter be certified by the Administrative Office of Courts.
(f) Adopt rules to implement this chapter.
(5) State Drug Court Advisory Committee. (a) The State Drug Court Advisory Committee shall be responsible for developing statewide rules and policies as they relate to Veterans Treatment Court programs.
(b) The State Drug Court Advisory Committee may also make recommendations to the Chief Justice, the Director of the Administrative Office of Courts and state officials concerning improvements to Veterans Treatment Court policies and procedures.
(c) The State Drug Court Advisory Committee shall act as an arbiter of disputes arising out of the operation of Veterans Treatment Court programs established under this chapter and make recommendations to improve the Veterans Treatment Court programs.
(6) Funding for Veterans Treatment Courts. (a) All monies received from any source by the Veterans Treatment Court program shall be accumulated in a fund to be used only for Veterans Treatment Court purposes. Any funds remaining in this fund at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse into the General Fund, but shall be retained in the Veterans Treatment Court fund for the funding of further activities by the Veterans Treatment Court program.
(b) A Veterans Treatment Court program may apply for and receive the following:
(i) Gifts, bequests and donations from private sources.
(ii) Grant and contract money from governmental sources.
(iii) Other forms of financial assistance approved by the court to supplement the budget of the Veterans Treatment Court program.
(7) Immunity. The coordinator and members of the professional and administrative staff of the Veterans Treatment Court program who perform duties in good faith under this article are immune from civil liability for:
(a) Acts or omissions in providing services under this chapter; and
(b) The reasonable exercise of discretion in determining eligibility to participate in the Veterans Treatment Court program.
(8) This section shall be codified as a separate chapter in Title 9, Mississippi Code of 1972.
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