The recent op-ed written by my opposition candidate’s campaign about Veteran’s Court fails to tell the whole story and does so for political reasons once again.
It has been said, “Thank you for the veteran, for bravely doing what you’re called to do so we can safely do what we’re free to do.”
In our society, veterans sacrifice so much to provide us safety and peace of mind. Many times, tragically, those brave men and women come home from their service wounded and scarred both physically and emotionally. That trauma, endured by these veterans, can many times lead to a path of addiction and regrettably, like many that have traveled addiction’s path, some veterans will find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
Contrary to the claims made in the opposition piece, we have had a Veteran’s Service Court operating under the umbrella of existing drug courts in our district now for more than a decade. As a first assistant D.A. in the district, I advocated for such a program, and we actually tried the deferred prosecution agreement model that the opposition piece claimed would solve all veteran’s court issues. That model proved to be ineffective because those veterans that qualified for the program were not anxious to sign up until they faced the prospect of incarceration for their crimes. Veterans with substance abuse addictions are not unlike other addicted personalities. Often times, when arrested, they are more interested in getting out of jail on bail to continue their addictive behaviors and unfortunately, their pattern of criminal activity. Most addicted persons are not ready to receive treatment until they hit rock bottom.
The opposition’s deferred prosecution model doesn’t fit well within the time constraints for arraigning and filing charges the law demands. That model proved to be one which sounded good but actually ended up resulting in law enforcement having to chase the veteran offenders more than once because they would sign up and abscond over and over and have to be repeatedly apprehended by law enforcement. Additionally, the deferred prosecution model often meets with outrage from victims and law enforcement communities who object to the idea that the crimes for which they were victimized or for which they tirelessly worked as cops are brushed off as a slap on the wrist for those offenders.
This is the exact impetuous that led victim’s rights groups to get Marsy’s Law on the ballot this next election. The opposition’s plan, like most of their platform and proposed policies, overfocuses on the offender, seemingly ignoring the voices of the victims. My campaign and my track record have not and never will ignore the victims’ voices. The victim’s voice in the criminal justice system should be heard from the time law enforcement arrives on the scene to the first setting of bail and to the conclusion, when decisions as to ultimate outcomes and punishment for the offenders are made.
Unfortunately, my opponent’s camp fails to grasp this concept in their op-ed because they are not experienced with the issues, yet they proclaim vast knowledge of something they have never done or been involved in. My opponent has no experience with this subject, just as he has no experience on the subjects in other op-ed pieces. So, once again, break out those magnifying glasses when you read the opposition pieces to check for the fine print or the whole story.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, a very wise and famous American jurist, once wrote, “The life of the law has not been logic but experience.”
The vision of a veteran’s court has proven this statement true again.
As experienced prosecutors in this district, we offer, and have for some time now, the opportunity to qualify veterans for a Veteran’s Service Court operated under the umbrella of the Drug Court, where veterans receive favorable admission to this hybrid version of Veteran’s Court when they would not otherwise qualify because of a previous conviction that would disqualify others without veteran status. Once in the program, we gladly utilize veterans service providers to assist in treatment — vocational, educational and mentoring that is not so readily available to the rest of the population. In addition, we move veterans to the head of the class on dockets and give them every opportunity to avoid going to prison. Although it’s a real incentive hanging over their heads, if they find a way to take advantage of these services and make the lifestyle changes which many times may involve changes to their way of thinking, those veterans will avoid a prison sentence. They will find themselves returning to lessons learned in the military, where they once again see themselves on “a mission” of doing well for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Finally, the opposition plan of a deferred prosecution model veteran’s court fails to recognize that we do not have enough veterans in the county committing crimes that would qualify for such a veteran’s service court program to justify another court docket, another program operating on its own with a separate funding mechanism. Currently, we have only six veterans in the program in use in Pontotoc County, and even less in other counties in the District. We would, however, welcome funding sources or new mentoring services to extend these services to veterans we do not currently have.
Once again, the opposition candidate, in his eight-year career as a lawyer, did not successfully start any justice reform court or program, as I have, advocating for differing treatment of veterans in a workable veterans court model. Neither has the opposition candidate helped start a drug court, a mental health court or an effective truancy program, as I have in my 32-year career.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who have served our country and have answered the call of duty. While the sacrifices of my life cannot begin to compare to those of veterans, I feel called to duty to serve the cause of justice as well. For over three decades, I have served the people of Oklahoma; most all of that time in this district and in our communities, trying to find common-sense solutions in the cause of serving justice. It has been my honor to do so, and I look forward to continuing to serve our community and crime victims as well as veterans.
We will all be better served by the experience of a proven commodity than the fantastic claims of a prospective success that is totally unproven and spoken about, at this time, by the opposition candidate, only to serve his political interests.
Paul B. Smith, District Attorney