Veterans court takes a chance on violent offenders
"SANTA ANA, Calif. — In one of Orange County’s traditional criminal courts, the young defendant had been seen as an aggressor who had, without provocation, used brass knuckles to beat a middle-aged man at a gas station.
In Judge Wendy Lindley’s court, the 22-year-old was all of that, but he was also a former Marine corporal who had served in Iraq.
That made all the difference.
Instead of spending two years in jail, the violent offender is going to therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, to counseling for substance abuse and, now, to college.
Lindley presides over a court designed for combat veterans, allowing most to avoid incarceration if they plead guilty to their crimes and adhere to a strict probation program focused on intensive treatment of their underlying issues — in most cases, PTSD.
“These guys went off to war and as a result of their service were damaged, and our job is to restore them to who they were,” Lindley said.
Her court in Orange County, near sprawling Camp Pendleton, is one of about 40 specialized veterans dockets that have sprung up across the country in recent years, but Lindley is at the forefront of a new trend for these courts: taking cases involving violent crimes."