Veterans’ Court Coming to Belmont County

Belmont County now has a veterans’ court to offer specialized rehabilitation for criminal offenders.

Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato will preside over the program. The court will have a specialized docket similar to the current drug court. He expects the program to last a minimum of one and a half years for each defendant.

Fregiato said the court will determine if there are any common factors among the defendant veterans, and that the basic criteria has been established.

“We’re primarily looking at felonies of the fourth and fifth degree, which are low-level felonies. It needs to be a non-violent crime, and it has to be related to the military experience. Just because they were in the military, if the crime is not related to the military, they would not qualify,” he said. “That could be associated with drugs, it could be associated with alcohol, it could be associated with post traumatic stress syndrome.

“It could be associated with anything related to the military.”

Like drug court, participants in veterans’ court would be required to regularly appear in court and report to their counselors. A successful completion will clear the defendant’s record of an offense. The program is entirely voluntary on the part of the court and the defendants.

“No defendant is ordered into veterans’ court. They will have to want to go into veterans’ court and to want to succeed.”

Fregiato planned to hold a special meeting at 4:30 p.m. today at his court to discuss the next steps.

“We got approved by the Ohio Supreme Court,” Fregiato said. “Veterans court does exist in Belmont County officially (the week of June 2).”

Fregiato added that notification is being shared with the Belmont County Bar Association and with veterans’ organizations in the county. He added that the upcoming meeting is open to the public and anyone concerned. Court dates for the program have not yet been set.

“We’re still finding our way,” Fregiato said, adding that the other county agencies have been cooperative.

“It will be very similar to the way I conduct drug court. It’s not going to be an easy way out. It’s going to be a very … tough road for whoever enters veterans’ court,” he said.

Participants will undergo counseling and treatment to resolve whatever issues related to their service they have.

“There’s a special experience that the military has, and we want to address that in conjunction with what the problem is that the defendant in front of us is having,” Fregiato said.

Fregiato could not speculate at this point about the potential numbers of veterans who could be eligible for the court.

“We have a huge number of veterans in Belmont County. However, that certainly does not mean that they are connected to crime in any way, and we’re simply going to see how that pans out in the future, to determine whether or not there are sufficient numbers to address this as an overall problem, but right now we are going to address it as an issue and see where it goes.”

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