Mental Health America Applauds Agreement to to Offer Counseling, Defer Prosecution in Case of Vet Charged with Gun Violation After Contacting Suicide Hotline
Contact: Steve Vetzner, (703) 797-2588 or email@example.com
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (February 27, 2012)—Mental Health America today applauded an agreement reached in federal court today that will avoid prosecution of Sean Duvall, a Gulf War Vet who was charged with having a homemade gun after he called a confidential suicide hotline.
Duvall, who was homeless at the time near Roanoke, Virginia, called a suicide help line run by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which he understood to be a confidential resource. After telling the counselor who took his call that he was armed and suicidal, Duvall agreed to wait until a police officer arrived at a parking lot near the Virginia Tech campus from where he had called. Duvall was committed to a psychiatric hospital and released a few days later when his condition improved.
Several weeks later, he was charged in state court with the misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon (which was a homemade gun). He was later charged in federal court on multiple felony charges. Duvall’s public defender had urged the case be dismissed.
The U.S. Attorney decided to change course and avoid prosecution.
Under an agreement approved by the court, Duvall will be admitted to counseling overseen by a new Veterans Treatment Court. If the counseling is completed, the charges, which carried a 40-year prison sentence, would be dropped.
Mental Health America had also urged that the case be dismissed, warning that prosecution would have a chilling effect on thousands of vets and dissuade them from seeking help, leading to grave consequences.
In a letter sent last week to U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy, Dr. David Shern, president and CEO of Mental Health America, noted that the legal system has responded with therapeutic strategies in the case of veterans who have psychological injuries and have become entangled with the criminal justice system.
“For example, many state and local jurisdictions have established specialized veterans’ courts that seek to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and recognize the special circumstances experienced by nation’s veterans.”
Dr. Shern said the deferral will best serve the interests of the public, veterans and Mr. Duvall.
“We are very pleased that the U.S. Attorney changed course and opted for an alternative approach in this case.”
Mental Health America (www.mentalhealthamerica.net) is the nation’s largest and oldest community-based network dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives. With our more than 300 affiliates across the country, we touch the lives of millions—Advocating for changes in mental health and wellness policy; Educating the public & providing critical information; and delivering urgently needed mental health and wellness Programs and Services.