The Phoenix Municipal Court is a limited jurisdiction court which means that we handle only civil violations and misdemeanors, not felonies. A veteran who has been cited or charged with one of these types of offenses is eligible for our Veterans Court.
We will accept any type of civil or misdemeanor case into our Veterans Court, both pre- and post-disposition, and we will take any type of veteran regardless of their type of discharge from the service. In addition to veterans, we accept active duty, Guard, and Reserve personnel as well as individuals who have never served in the armed forces, as long as those individuals were planning on going into the military and the particular charge is keeping them from being able to do so.
The types of cases that we see most often would be DUI’s (either alcohol or drug-related), suspended license cases, shoplifting cases, and domestic violence cases. The domestic violence-related offenses that we most often see are assaults, criminal damage, disorderly conduct, and threatening and intimidation. We also see homelessness-related offenses such as trespass violations, drinking alcohol in public, or sleeping in the park.
We only accept individuals that are interested in participating in our rehabilitative programs. Our Veterans Court is voluntary, and, therefore, individuals may have their case adjudicated in another division of the Phoenix Municipal Court, if they prefer.
What are the differences between the Veterans Court process and the traditional court?
In your typical court model, judges often have rigid sentencing guidelines which they must follow for certain types of cases, such as DUI’s and domestic violence-related offenses. In these cases, the applicable statutes mandate that an individual be ordered to participate in specific types of treatment. All defendants must complete classes that are directly tied to the offense for which they were convicted.
When a case comes into our Veterans Court, a veteran will undergo an initial assessment by our Veterans Court team. This assessment will identify the underlying issue(s) that caused the conduct which resulted in the civil or criminal charge. The team will then fashion an individualized program of rehabilitative treatment based upon the team’s assessment.
For example, in a typical court setting, a conviction for a domestic violence-related offense is going to require domestic violence counseling, regardless of the underlying issue(s). In our Veterans Court, a veteran’s initial assessment may determine that a domestic violence-related incident is directly related to post-traumatic stress (rather than anger or control issues) and that domestic violence counseling is not going to address that issue. So, once our Veterans Court team has identified the true issue (post-traumatic stress), they are able to focus on treating that issue. And, at the end of the day, we have addressed the true issue that caused the criminal act, and we are not likely going to see that individual back in the criminal justice system.
What is the judge’s role?
I have multiple roles: I hear our veterans’ progress reports and encourage the veterans in their respective programs; I take pleas pursuant to plea agreements that the veterans have entered into with the State; and I speak to the veterans at the request of the attorneys and order them to do what they should be doing, if, in fact, they are not doing what is being asked of them. Frankly, that does not happen very often. For the most part, our veterans are onboard with their programs, and they do what is asked of them.
The most important, gratifying, and heart-warming part of my job, however, is graduating our veterans. Graduations in our court signify that the veterans have successfully completed their programs and have done everything that has been asked of them. The transformation that we see in them from the first time they come into our court or are seen at jail court to the time they graduate is truly remarkable. Graduation day is the happiest and proudest day for our veterans and for all of us here at the court.