By LISA FALKENBERG Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle: April 29, 2009, 11:07PM
Should a wounded warrior charged with a crime get special treatment in the courtroom?
And if he does, how far should the special treatment go? If he completes special conditions like rehab in a DWI case, or maybe counseling for a domestic violence charge, should he have the right to get his case dismissed, and the records destroyed?
District attorneys and other prosecutors across the state are saying “no.” They’ve been voicing concerns about a bill that would give service members and veterans with combat-related mental illness a second chance.
Tuesday’s column told the story of Marty Gonzalez, a decorated Marine from Spring, who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. One night, after taking too many pain killers, he drove his truck with his 3-year-old son in the backseat and fell asleep at the wheel, crashing into a Tomball family’s living room.
Luckily, no one was injured, but Gonzalez was charged with a felony DWI with a child passenger until a sympathetic prosecutor and Judge Marc Carter, both veterans themselves, offered Gonzalez pre-trial diversion, a chance to avoid prison and the stigma of becoming a felon, by completing a treatment program.
Some prosecutors say Gonzalez’s case is an example that such options are already available under the law. “I don’t like the idea that a veteran gets a better deal than a person with a head injury or a mental health issue who didn’t go into the military,” said John Bradley, the DA in Williamson County, north of Austin.
Carter objected: “For the most part, that comment is going to be from someone who’s never carried a 60-pound rucksack and an M-16 into battle. Carter points out that the bill doesn’t force a county to adopt the program, but if it does, it would make prosecutors who wouldn’t normally consider pre-trial diversion stop and give it some thought.
The bill, by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, allows counties to establish programs that require judges to consider options like pre-trial diversion or deferred adjudication in cases where a combat veteran’s crime is linked to a traumatic head injury or mental illness like PTSD. It also gives counties the legal authority to charge veterans fees to participate in special programs.