Under the Massachusetts Valor Act, Massachusetts’s veterans and their families are afforded special benefits that those who haven’t served may not have access to. Veterans and their families are benefited in numerous ways, some of which are alleged to be abused by defense attorneys seeking to avoid punishment for their clients. Specifically, under the Valor Act many veterans have been offered pretrial diversion on cases for which an average citizen would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Valor Act allowed veterans with no criminal record facing certain charges to be diverted to approved pretrial diversion programs rather than tried. Veterans with no criminal record could be diverted under the Valor Act any number of times. The controversy arose in cases where veterans were using loopholes under the Valor Act to escape criminal charges for violent crimes. In 2017, the Boston Globe reported on a New Bedford man charged with strangling his girlfriend having his charges dismissed and the Act applied retroactively so that it was as if the arraignment never occurred. This case revealed that criminals could potentially get away with violent crimes any number of times without real consequences at the cost of their victims’ peace of mind and required legislative action. This is a grave overstatement and as with any programs, from food stamps and welfare to loan incentives, there will be those who try to game or beat the system. Dakota Martin Law has helped countless veterans to utilize the resources set in place by Massachusetts to assist service members and ex-service members, those who’ve served in the military and stand accused of crimes in the Commonwealth. The Valor Act gave attorney Martin the means to stop the clock, seek an evaluation, form a treatment plan and god willing, make the criminal case go away, while putting someone back on course. “When it all comes together, it is a beautiful thing.” “Watching the change and seeing first hand, the positive impact not just on the soldier, but his or her family, is something I relish.” -Attorney Dakota Martin.
The Valor Act’s pretrial diversion clauses have been repealed and effectively replaced. First, under the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform Act, pretrial diversion has been expanded to everyone, for certain classes of crimes but veterans are still afforded special protections under the new laws. Veterans are considered for pretrial diversion programs after a 30-day assessment -twice the time afforded to other citizens. Most notably, veterans are uniquely eligible for pretrial diversion for first offense OUI cases so long as no one is injured. This special protection is afforded to veterans in particular because studies show that many service men and women come home with substance abuse issues. Massachusetts does not want to penalize these individuals criminally for behaviors they picked up while serving this country, behaviors which could be curtailed through treatment, not punishment. In order to qualify for pretrial diversion under these circumstances, a veteran must demonstrate that his behavior, was caused by a substance use disorder or another illness resulting from his or her military service. Other benefits under the Valor Act were replaced by the Brave Act. Though the changes in the law are substantial, we at Dakota Martin Law hope we can continue to help veterans of all military branches through the channels that remain in place.