Not yet 25 yrs-old, Albert Dobbs was tired of living. Unable to take his own life he concocted an idea to have someone take it for him. Suiting-up in his Vietnam combat fatigues he loaded his gun and walked into a Louisiana bar. The startled bartender, although never actually threatened by Dobbs, leaped over the bar and beat Dobbs to a pulp before calling police. Arrested, tried and convicted in less than 3 weeks, Dobbs was given a 12-year sentence at Louisiana's notorious Hunt Prison for "attempted robbery".

    Houston resident Charles Heads was angry with his wife for scooping up his kids and running away to her sister's home in Shreveport. Arriving there himself shortly after midnight a few days later, Heads kicked in the front door and loudly demanded to speak to his wife. His brother-in-law, asserting his position as protector of the household, attempted to intervene but was no match for Heads, a Vietnam combat vet. The brother-in-law drew his gun last, and lost. Heads was arrested and convicted on first-degree murder. The jury recommended death by electrocution.

    Two justifiable convictions? Maybe, and maybe not. Heads, like Dobbs, turned out to be extremely lucky. Several years after their convictions both found two strong allies in their corner. One was their Vietnam service. The other was Los Angeles attorney Barry Levin. Shortly after receiving Levin's help, Dobbs and Heads walked out of prison as free men.


    Like many of their Vietnam veteran peers, Heads and Dobbs had entered military service fresh out of high school, endured the rigors of specialized combat training then volunteered for duty in Vietnam where they sustained enemy-inflicted wounds and won several medals for bravery. Barry Levin shared their Vietnam experiences, himself winning the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

    Both the Dobbs and Heads cases, and many others cited by Levin in "Defending the Vietnam Combat Vet" provide insight, detailed reference and guidance into defense attorneys in employing the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in defending former Vietnam vets.

    Necessarily included is an overview of the American Psychiatric Association's definition of PTSD, the dysfunctional behavioral results of wartime experiences and its relationship to the ongoing behavioral patterns that lure many Vietnam vets toward destinies that are determined by judges rather than by themselves.

    Co-authored by private investigator and psycho-social counselor David O. Ferrier, also a Vietnam vet, Levin's book is skilfully organized in ten well-indexed sections examining and explaining the medical, psychological and social aspects of PTSD. Levin and Ferrier provide an historical background of the wartime conditions giving birth to PTSD, and its relation to Agent Orange, illegal drug use, discharge status and other factors. In short, the 345-page text provides the professional with a concise, accurate means of utilizing an individual's military history and background in a defense, or presenting mitigating factors in post-military behaviors.

    Among the numerous volumes written in the last ten years about the Vietnam experience, Levin and Ferrier's clinical study is the first of its kind to explore the long-term behavioral residue of the Vietnam War on its participants. The authors demonstrate, using a wide variety of case examples, that often it is treatment, rather than punishment, that best addresses the repercussions of a vet's involvement with the law.

    In Levin's words, "The American people have only lately come to accept that the war experience must be understood from a personal, historical, sociological and psychological standpoint. Empathy and understanding for the Vietnam veteran has grown and flourished in many quarters of our society. Ongoing construction of memorials mark the fallen, long-over view parades honor the living and both the medical and mental health fields have achieved a sophistication and understanding of the wounds of the war. This understanding is today, more than ever before, reaching into the justice system."


    Although the sample cases listed in the text result in part from the authors' personal involvement, Ferrier and Levin remain clinically objective throughout. Their goal, highly achieved, is reflected in a accurate examples of how the military experience can be demonstrated to have a direct link to the criminal or contested circumstance. Critical factors, such as separating the factitious from the actual, are carefully explored leaving psychological evaluation of the veteran to practitioners of that field. What the authors have provided is a method of accurately compiling a verifiable military history and when applicable, providing defense attorneys with tools for demonstrating to the court that the military history is a vital factor in determining motive or responsibility. Often criminal behavior is brought on by disabling and impaired psychological functioning that vets neither fully understand nor control.

    Levin and Ferrier illustrate that often the veteran is unaware of the association between his military experience and his post-military life style. If a person's military service can be clearly and truthfully demonstrated to have contributed to the decision that led that veteran into conflict with the law, it is the clear-cut duty of his attorney to present these facts to the court.


    Interspersed among case examples, the authors provide guidelines for linking traumatic experiences in the military to stress reactions and behaviors. In some cases, this link has been the basis for a complete defense to a crime.

    In those jurisdictions that allow evidence of diminished capacity, this link has been used as a partial defense, allowing for mitigation in sentencing, rebutting presumptions and obtaining other benefits.

    The book also includes sample sentencing memorandums, case reviews, client interview questionnaires and step-by step instructions on how to order military records and interpret them. Copies of appeal documents and motions, and suggestions for jury voir dire are also included. Further, the book has an updated list of available expert witnesses to further help, the professional provide the best possible evaluation of military history and impact.

    For more information about...


    Please write to:

    Barry Levin, Attorney,
    11661 San Vicente Bd, Suite 903, Los Angeles CA 90049
    Fax 310-208-6629

    For more information about this article, please write to:
    The Los Angeles Daily Journal
    Established 1888
    210 South Spring Street
    Los Angeles CA 90012

    Please refer to Volume 102, Number 189 - 05 October 1989

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