Bill to help accused veterans

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A proposed law that would extend special considerations to military veterans caught up in the criminal justice system cleared the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee B on Tuesday.

It heads to the full state Senate next for further debate.

Senate Bill 32 would require court personnel to find out whether a defendant is an active-duty member of the military or a veteran prior to their arraignment and/or sentencing.

Courts who determine that a defendant is a current or former military member would then have the option to consult with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the state Department of Veterans Affairs or other agencies to consider special treatment programs the defendant may be eligible for prior to sentencing.

The proposed law further says court personnel can investigate whether any military or veteran resources are available for a convicted defendant prior to sentencing if the person has been diagnosed as having a mental illness.

State Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, and sponsor of SB32, said the idea for the legislation came to him after hearing hardship stories from families of Iraq War veterans.

He said the bill gives judges extra leeway to pursue options for defendants in lieu of jail time in applicable cases.