Juvenile citation bill advances in Senate

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A Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday to create a list of first-time misdemeanors that would lead to civil citations instead of arrests for youths under 16 years of age.

The legislation, sponsored by Rockledge Republican Thad Altman (SB 408), would in most cases lead to civil citations instead of arrests. Juveniles would be diverted to perform community service and participate in appropriate intervention programs.

“What we’re trying to do is get kids out of the system,” Altman told his colleagues on the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee.

Among the misdemeanor offenses that would qualify under his bill include possession of alcoholic beverages by persons under 21; battery; theft; involvement in riots; disorderly conduct; possession of certain amounts of cannabis or controlled substances; possession of drug paraphernalia; and resisting an officer without violence.

Law enforcement agencies have expressed concerns during the process in Senate and House (where a companion bill is sponsored by Doral Republican Carlos Trujillo), and the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) said it still has objections.

“We’re talking pot, possession of marijuana that’s about 35 to 40 cigarettes,” said FSA Assistant Executive Director of Operations Sarrah Carroll. She also objected to the possession of drug paraphernalia provision that would include crack pipes and heroin syringes.

Whether a central Department of Juvenile Justice database could tally such citations is also a question. Carroll said she understood that DJJ it might running by summer though a department spokesman later said that such a system is running.

Barney Bishop with the Smart Justice Alliance said the issue isn’t about a central repository, but that the law would take discretion from local law enforcement.

“You’re not letting that officer make a decision, you’re telling them what to do! That’s wrong. This is not about databases, this is about second guessing a law enforcement officer who’s on the scene, making that decision,” Bishop thundered. He said there are such civil citation programs in most of the state currently. “Please, don’t take away their discretion.”

Bishop said that his organization could not support the bill.

“One of the things that I heard today is we’re not here yet, and I agree with that,” said Inverness Republican Charlie Dean, who voted against the bill.

Altman passed an amendment to the bill Wednesday that would make the program eligible to youngsters than 16.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected]


One comment

  • Katie Self

    February 24, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    There are many issues with FSS 985.12 dating back to the 2011 Legislative Session. In most counties the law is not being followed. Why not? Is it too cumbersome for LEO? Does it create delays where other pre-arrest referral systems worked more expediently? LEO is authorized to cite the juvenile as well as determine the specific punishment. Does that confuse intended Separation of Powers? DJJ says civil citation is not an arrest while their info materials say the “arrest forms” are held yet LEO agencies are not destroying the original arrest info. State attorneys have issues prosecuting a case that is criminal, then is converted to a civil infraction, then converted back to criminal if the child is not successful. And a big issue of monitoring agencies is that the punishment is decided without a mental health assessment. Hopefully, after 5 years, the current Legislature will review this law & bring service providers and LEO to the table to assure at-risk youth are being served justly.

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