Senate blesses juvenile expunction bill

Juvenile-arrest
More than 26,000 youthful offenders would benefit under the bill, according to a staff analysis.

A bipartisan bill that would broaden a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record in Florida is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ desk.

State law currently limits expungement to minors who complete a diversion program after a first-time misdemeanor arrest.

The bill (HB 195), however, would significantly expand expunction opportunities. Under the proposal, a minor may expunge felonies — except for forcible felonies — and multiple arrests. Forcible felonies include crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping, among others.

Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith, the bill’s sponsor, has described it as a “one-time, straighten-up and fly right opportunity for youthful offenders in Florida.”

The Senate passed the bill unanimously and without debate. The House also unanimously approved the bill last month.

Smith and Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry have championed the proposal for multiple Legislative Sessions —  Florida Juvenile Justice Association Executive Director Christian Minor helped them write the bill four years ago.

“They say it takes a village,” Minor tweeted. “Thank you to each & every person who helped work juvenile diversion program expunction for FL’s 26k kids who’ll benefit. I made 2 great friends along the way who were ardent champions in Sen. Perry & Rep. Smith.”

“This is a monumental piece of workforce development legislation that strikes a balance between public safety and providing kids with second chances to overcome their mistakes,” Minor said. “It allows for opportunities to go to college, get housing, gainful employment or serve in the military.”

Chelsea Murphy, the Florida director for the conservative-learning Right on Crime, also lauded the bill.

“There is no question that kids deserve a second chance, especially ones that did not commit a forcible felony,” she said.

Notably, this isn’t the Legislature’s first look at the measure. Lawmakers passed it last year without a single downvote.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, vetoed the bill, citing public safety concerns.

“The unfettered ability to expunge serious felonies, including sexual battery, from a juvenile’s record may have negative impacts on public safety,” DeSantis wrote in the veto letter.

The forcible felony exception is the most significant distinction between this year’s proposal and the previous bill. The previous version did not explicitly bar the expunction of forcible felonies, though the odds of a judge providing a diversion pathway to a violent offender are slim to none.

“Otherwise the bill’s the same as last year,” Perry told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in November.

According to a staff analysis, more than 26,000 juvenile offenders would benefit under the bill. Those offenders, proponents note, will have better job and educational opportunities without an arrest record.

“They would be able to look that college recruiter, that military recruiter in the eye, or that employer, and say that they have never been arrested for a crime,” Smith said at a February committee stop.

Arrests — even without a conviction — can make attending college, renting a home and finding employment challenging. If signed by DeSantis, the bill will go into effect July 1.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.



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