Bill to Expand Juvenile Diversion

April 22, 2015

Juveniles often make foolish choices. Unfortunately, sometimes those choices involve illegal activities and lead to encounters with the law. A criminal record can be seriously detrimental to a young person. But under Florida law, law enforcement officers may issue civil citations to juveniles who have committed first-offense misdemeanors, instead of arresting them. Lawmakers in the current legislative session are trying to expand the availability of civil citations to subsequent juvenile misdemeanor offenders.

The Bill

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, is sponsoring Senate Bill 378. The bill would make civil citations and other juvenile diversion programs an option for minors who have committed second and third misdemeanor offenses. If a juvenile admits committing a misdemeanor, an officer would be able to:

  • Issue a warning to the minor,
  • Tell the minor’s parents or guardians about the misdemeanor,
  • Issue a civil citation, or
  • Require that the juvenile participate in another diversion program.

The bill would also allow the officer to:

  • Assign up to 50 hours of community service, or
  • Require participation in intervention programs such as substance abuse treatment, family counseling, or drug testing.

If the police decide to arrest a juvenile for a misdemeanor, the measure would require that the officer provide written documentation explaining why making the arrest was justified. The bill has been approved by the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules Committee.

The House version of the bill, HB 99, is being sponsored by Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach. It allows for juvenile diversion and other alternatives to arrest to be used in second and subsequent misdemeanors, and is not limited to three offenses, unlike the Senate version.

Juvenile Diversion

Juvenile diversion programs in Florida offer an alternative to arrest. In juvenile diversion, if a minor completes a program, his or her case will be dismissed. Diversion programs are targeted to the minor’s individual needs, and rehabilitation is the goal.

Civil citation is a type of juvenile diversion. A law enforcement officer may issue a civil citation to a juvenile who has committed a misdemeanor for the first time. Instead of being arrested, the juvenile may be required to, for example:

  • Do community service,
  • Participate in intervention programs,
  • Attend family counseling,
  • Attend substance abuse or mental health treatment,
  • Write a letter of apology to the victim,
  • Pay restitution for damages, or
  • Permit school progress monitoring.

If the juvenile does not complete the civil citation program, the Department of Juvenile Justice will report the failure to the state attorney. The case can then be filed as a criminal offense, and the matter can proceed to court.

Pros and Cons

Proponents of the bill argue that it holds juveniles responsible while not harming their chances at obtaining jobs, housing, and education in the future. They also note that juvenile diversion is cheaper for the taxpayer than incarceration.

Some agree with the need for an expansion but hold that there should be a limit to the number of offenses before juvenile diversion ceases to be an option. They acknowledge that the law enforcement agency may not know what number of offense it is, as there is currently no database kept, but a database may be created.

If your child has been charged with a crime or has otherwise gotten in trouble with the law, an attorney can help you to obtain a favorable result. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.