Matt Evans: Should Veterans Get Special Treatment In The Criminal Justice System?


The state legislature just voted to give soldiers a different justice system

You can keep track of what the legislature is doing each day by hitting this link:

Most of the house votes on Jan 22nd, when I checked, were pretty lopsided, with little evidence of disagreement. One, however, caught my attention, because the vote tally wasn’t quite so unanimous: HB1106

“A BILL for an Act to create and enact a new subsection to section 12.1‑32‑02 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to sentencing of current and former members of the military.”

The bill is very short. It says, that when a defendant is guilty in a criminal court, the court shall inquire if the defendant is a current or ex-member of the US armed forces. If so, the court will attempt to determine if there are behavioral health conditions present, and if so, suggest possible treatment options.

You can read the 1 page text here.

In effect, this bill says that in matters of domestic criminal law enforcement, members of the US military, present or past, have a different criminal justice system. I understand that an entirely different justice system governs soldiers while they are on active duty and they go through the military court and disciplinary system – but this is something different. This bill is creating a different system for soldiers, but within the domestic justice and law enforcement apparatus.

I was under the impression that before the law, everyone is supposed to be equal.

The difference in this bill is not tremendous, and probably not nefarious. But I think it’s an interesting precedent.

I am curious about what the need for this bill is. I understand that normal people don’t go through what soldiers go through, and that many veterans these days are coming back a little less whole than they were when they went over. We should absolutely do a better job supporting them after they’ve served.

However, serving over there isn’t an excuse for breaking the law over here. And if we think there are mental or behavioral factors contributing to someone’s lack of well being – and their proclivity to commit crimes — shouldn’t the justice system want to consider how to treat those conditions irrespective of whether or not the guilty party was ever a soldier?

It seems like the right way to help veterans is to get them the help they need long before they commit crimes, and that when somebody does have a brush with the criminal justice system, that they get the same treatment – including getting the help they need – no matter who they are.