By Anna Zheng
SACRAMENTO, CA – Military veteran Robert Lee Haynes, Jr. was in Sacramento County Superior Court last week with a request for resentencing because he suffers from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – from his military service 20 years ago.
His problem – although estimates of veterans who suffer from PTSD range from 10 percent to 30 percent over the past wars since and including Vietnam – is that Haynes could not prove it to the court’s satisfaction.
The judge turned him down, noting his record of shooting a 29-year old woman in the face. He was charged with assault, domestic abuse, attempted murder, and for the possession of a deadly weapon during a violent crime.
The court was asked to evaluate the condition of whether the defendant’s circumstance of suffering from traumatic brain injury, PTSD, or mental health problems due to his military service was or was not considered as a factor of mitigation at the time of his sentencing on Jan. 1, 2015.
Assistant Public Defender Martin Tejeda said Haynes “although he was not diagnosed until much later, he has expressed that he has had the symptoms since the military and it is not uncommon for PTSD to go undiagnosed for years.”
“I believe he does meet the mandatory threshold requirement to show that he does have PTSD. And because [it] was not considered at the time of his sentencing, the court should now, at the very least, consider his mental illness as a mitigating factor in deciding whether or not the Court should re-sentence him,” Tejeda argued.
Deputy District Attorney Kim Zdobników disagreed, noting that when Haynes served in the military from 1989-1991, he failed to show that he had any of the specified traumas that were military related.
“The proof comes in the form of asserted statements, an application for the VA for benefits, the few notes from the CDR psychiatric service department. When you examine the information that Mr. Haynes has provided and put it into context and then compare it to other related reliable sources of information, the evidence that he’s put forward isn’t credible and would not even support his burden or preponderance,” Zdobników explained.
Zdobników discredits the defendant’s claim by stating he was not offered an early discharge for serving honorably in the Navy as he claims.
“His DD214 form says that discharge was under other than honorable conditions, [where he] also blacked out the narrative reason for his discharge. A separation code on his DD214 would indicate that his discharge was due to discreditable incidents, civilian or military,” Zdobników stated.
Zdobników then argued how it appeared, “obvious that Mr. Haynes redacted the narrative reason for his discharge in order to paint himself in a better light for this court and to conceal the true nature of his discharge from this court.”
Zdobników further illustrates her point by showing the court the narrative summary the defendant submitted for his application for VA benefits. “Again, he presents one page of an unknown number page application. Again providing less than a full picture of himself for the court,” she stated.
The court’s attention is then drawn to the contents of the application, where Haynes described an incident he saw in the military that he believes attributed to his PTSD.
Zdobników raises the issue of how Haynes is using only his own self-serving self-diagnosis as evidence, where “there is no actual proof that he has PTSD.”
Zdobników then asked the court to look at the context in which he was making the request. She recounted the number of instances the defendant has attempted to have his conviction overturned or be released early.
“Based on the defendant’s record of having his conviction overturned or be released early, his reporting of PTSD symptoms in 2018 to 2019 is not the result of insight he’s gained in self-help groups or rehabilitation groups as indicated in his moving papers, but rather more reasonably of him again trying to manipulate the court system to take advantage of this new statute,” Zdobników explained.
Lastly, Zdobników refuted Tejeda’s argument of how the defendant “had PTSD all along, but he just didn’t have the words to describe his problems.”
“It’s not really that hard to say I can’t sleep. I have nightmares. I react strangely to loud noises and this has been happening since I left the military,” Zdobników proclaimed.
Ultimately, Judge Michael W. Sweet found that there was no evidence to prove that Haynes was suffering from PTSD caused by his time in the military. He found that the evidence presented by the defendant left a lot of doubt in the efficacy of his claim of suffering from PTSD.
“He’s been in prison for 20 years, that alone can cause PTSD, that alone can cause lack of sleep, anxiety, I get all that. That alone can generate the need for some psychological medication. That makes more sense to me, but that PTSD alone from military service does not,” Judge Sweet explained.
In his closing remarks, Judge Sweet stated that “even if the court gave Mr. Haynes the benefit of the doubt because it is a low burden, I would not exercise my right to re-sentence him. I’m sorry Mr. Haynes, but the crimes that you committed deserve the time that you are now receiving. It is very good and I say this earnestly that you’ve come to a realization that what you did was wrong, despicable, abhorrent behavior. That is good.”
“At some point you will be released and at some point the society wants you to integrate back into society. Once you’ve done your time, as far as I’m concerned, you deserve to be back in society. But without the change of heart you expressed in this hearing, you would not be ready for release into society”, Judge Sweet concluded.