Bills being considered by the Florida Legislature would expand the use of citations for addressing juvenile misdemeanor offenses and would shorten the amount of time a juvenile would have to wait before his or her records are automatically expunged.
Currently, there are two bills before the Legislature, one before the Senate and one before the House, addressing juvenile citations. Senate Bill 378 has already passed that body by a vote of 37-1. House Bill 99 has successfully gone through the Judiciary Committee, including the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. It has received favorable votes, though not unanimous, at all committees.
At this point, both the House and the Senate bill are substantively the same.
Under current law, Florida Statutes Annotated 985.12 that says that a law enforcement officer may issue a civil citation to a juvenile for a first-offense misdemeanor, if he or she admits to the crime. The citation requires up to 50 hours of community service and may require, upon assessment, intervention services, including substance abuse or mental health treatment.
The original bill simply struck the word “may” and replaces it with “shall.” The change would mean officers could not arrest a young person for a first offense if that offense is a misdemeanor.
Under the versions of the law that passed the Senate and are currently being considered in the House, the officer may still arrest a juvenile for a misdemeanor. However, if the officer chooses to do so, he or she must provide “written documentation” as to why the arrest was necessary.
The law would also give the option to officers to give the juvenile a simple warning or inform the juvenile’s parents of the infraction.
Additionally, the citation will no longer be for first-time offenders. A juvenile can be cited up to three times.
While the movement to reduce juvenile arrests is admirable, the sticking point in the bill is that juveniles must admit guilt to the officer before receiving the diversion. Juveniles who do not admit guilt and are arrested, however, would retain their right for a juvenile defense attorney to represent them and possibly get the charges reduced or dismissed.
Under another set of bills, the criminal records of a young person would automatically be expunged, meaning destroyed, when he or she turns 18 if not convicted of a forcible felony. Currently, a juvenile must wait until he or she turns 24 years old or 26 if he or she is classified as a serious or habitual juvenile offender or committed to a juvenile correctional facility. In this time, he or she could miss out on important educational opportunities as a young adult.
Senate Bill 334 and House Bill 205 have yet to receive a committee hearing.