At St. Thomas School of Law, Ryan Else ’11 J.D. discovered a passion for defending veterans. That passion led to the Veterans Defense Project (VDP), which he co-founded in 2017 with fellow criminal defense attorney and veteran Brock Hunter. The VDP’s mission is “restoring veterans involved in the criminal justice system to the communities they served.”
After more than two years of effort from a huge group of Veterans, advocates, stakeholders, legislators and their staff, the Veterans Restorative Justice Act has become law.
Governor Tim Walz held a ceremonial bill signing on Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Park in St. Paul to celebrate the Veterans Restorative Justice Act. The bipartisan legislation will provide veterans convicted of crimes with probation and social services rather than jail.
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday held a ceremonial bill signing for the Veterans Restorative Justice Act, a bipartisan bill which aims to provide veterans caught in the criminal justice system with social services and probation rather than jail time.
The Veterans Restorative Justice Act would expand the veterans court program to the whole state, offering a second chance to veterans who qualify and who are willing to put in the work. But a ferocious debate over who should qualify for that second chance sank the bill in 2020 and could deadlock it again this year.
Sometimes we need to adopt a holistic approach to provide the appropriate services and supports called for in the situation. Meet Brock Hunter, Founder of the Veterans Defense Project, who is helping on a national and local level, to provide veterans the support they need.
Hunter and Else say veterans courts need to standardize their sentencing guidelines across the state. Right now, a veteran in Anoka County and a veteran in Itasca County could get drastically different consequences and treatment plans even though they committed the same crime. The Veterans Restorative Justice Act seeks to unify veterans treatment court practices and give veterans with low-level offenses another shot.
Veterans with service-connected trauma, substance abuse, or mental health conditions, who are accused of committing all but the most serious crimes, could receive probation and social services instead of serving jail time.
“If these highly trained, lethal people are no longer chemically addicted and angry,” he added, “then not only are the victims safer but we are all safer.”
Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday pledged to back a developing effort to create a statewide restorative justice program for veterans charged with certain crimes.
Gov. Tim Walz says he's committed to improving the way the criminal justice system treats veterans, throwing his support behind an effort to expand the number of veterans courts in the state.
Not all jurisdictions in the state have a veterans court, similar to a mental health, DWI or drug court that takes a more treatment-centered approach. A bill called the Veterans Restorative Justice Act could bridge the gap and end disparities in the criminal justice system across the state.
This is not exactly how we do it here in Minnesota, but this is effective also. The story here is that veterans are volunteering to help their fellow veterans who need some assistance. Simply put, no one gets left behind!
The Veterans Treatment Court movement is happening all across this great nation of ours. Here's a story out of Eastern PA.
Here is an excellent piece on The Anoka County Veterans Treatment Court. It is a great sample of the amazing things these courts can accomplish!
Here in Montana, they are doing new things that are on the cutting edge and things that we will be exploring here in Minnesota.
So proud of our Veteran Brother and legal battle buddy, Evan Tsai, for his meticulous and passionate article on Minnesota’s Veteran Treatment Courts.
Eleven years ago, Charles King returned home from an Army deployment in Iraq angry and wary of the world and people around him. The distance between the combat mechanic and the rest of the world widened until he landed in Ramsey County District Court in 2013 for a domestic incident. The timing was fortuitous — the county was getting ready to debut its veterans court, and King would become its first enrollee.
Showing every Central Minnesotan what can be done — and overcome — when you put helping veterans ahead of everything. Ahead of yourself. Ahead of “big government.” Ahead of “red tape.” Ahead of “standard operating procedure.” And miles ahead of “I can’t make a difference.”
In a move to strengthen Allegheny County Veterans Court, the district attorney’s office said on Wednesday it’s donating 10 copies of The Attorney’s Guide to Defending Veterans in Criminal Court to Duquesne University law students who will help a supervising attorney defend veterans in the program.
Ryan Else—himself a veteran—is slated to receive the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Veterans Voices award on Sept. 11 for helping to educate lawyers on how to defend a person suffering from the psychological scars of war, and for volunteer work to help local veterans.
Brock Hunter is an attorney and former Army scout who focuses his practice on defending psychologically injured veterans in the criminal courts and advocating for reforms in the way the justice system deals with them.
For many veterans struggling to assimilate back into society, contact with the criminal justice system only makes things worse. “A criminal conviction just adds additional barriers to them reintegrating,” said Hunter. To that end, criminal defense attorneys are using the mitigation statute to assist their clients in either avoiding a conviction or lessening the charge.
Hunter said Torgesen had bouts when he was out of touch with reality and at times thought he was back on the battlefield. Torgesen was part of the 25th Infantry Division, his attorney said. Torgesen’s unit was regarded by some scholars as having seen some of the worst combat in all of the war.
“Before joining the Marines, Mr. Klecker drank and smoked marijuana, but not heavily, said his lawyer, Brockton Hunter. He was once stopped for drinking and driving, but the charge was downgraded to careless driving because his blood-alcohol level was just over the limit. After Iraq, he shipped out to Okinawa and did what many marines do there: he drank – a lot. But it was not until he left the Marines and returned home to suburban St. Paul that his panic attacks, nightmares and insomnia worsened. So did his drinking. He rarely spoke about the war, and only to other veterans.
“Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, told colleagues in a recent lecture at the Minnesota State Bar Association that society should try harder to prevent veterans from self-destructing.”
“To truly support our troops, we need to apply our lessons from history and newfound knowledge about PTSD to help the most troubled of our returning veterans,” Mr. Hunter said. “To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”