Florida Lawmakers Consider Erasing Juvenile Records

Erasing Juvenile Criminal RecordsFlorida’s juvenile justice system has been sharply criticized in recent years. While the state has tried focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment, critics say teens are too often placed into a hostile environment where youth-on-youth beatings can happen. After they’re released from the system, their records follow them. In the internet age, employers can get access to these records, even if there was no intention of making them public.

State lawmakers are starting to recognize the problem and are making attempts now to address it. State Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, has filed a bill to let minors complete a diversion program, even when they face felony charges. Minors who complete the programs can then have their criminal records expunged by the state, giving them a new start as they enter adulthood with a clean record.

Young people often make mistakes, but there are serious consequences for violating the law. If you have a child who’s been charged with a crime, the first step is to contact a juvenile defense attorney with a strong reputation for helping minors overcome criminal charges.

Why Do Florida Lawmakers Want to Expunge Juvenile Records?

Watson’s bill appears to have a good chance of becoming law, having already received bipartisan support. Watson’s goal is to expand the state’s current diversion program that allows teens charged with misdemeanors to clean their record after completing the program. Currently, Florida prohibits minors with felony offenses to have their criminal records cleared, even after completing diversion programs.

Florida’s juvenile diversion programs aim to keep youths from entering the juvenile justice system, instead focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment  Law enforcement officers or state attorneys decide whether minors participate in diversion programs, but minors with felony charges are ineligible.

Watson’s bill would allow teens who face felony charges to complete a diversion program and commit to avoiding future criminal activity. To erase their criminal records, minors would be required to give the Florida Department of Law Enforcement certificates from state attorneys saying they meet the qualifications for having their records expunged.

This bill could become an investment in Florida’s youth, giving them a chance to enter college, the job market, or the military without a criminal record hanging over them.

What are Some Problems With Florida’s Juvenile Justice System?

Florida’s criminal justice system treats children and teens differently from adults. After being charged with a criminal offense, minors enter the juvenile justice system, which has jurisdiction over the prosecution of all defendants under age 19. Once a child or teen is arrested, they get sent to a Juvenile Assessment Center, which determines whether detention is necessary. If not, the teen is released to their parent or guardian. 

Problems within the juvenile justice system have been documented by studies that show teens placed in detention centers have faced beatings, untreated illnesses or injuries, and even deaths. DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly has responded to the reports by pledging that her agency wouldn’t tolerate the mistreatment of youth in detention centers. She said:

“The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has been and continues to be committed to reform of the juvenile justice system in Florida. We have worked over the past six years to ensure that youths receive the right services in the right place and that our programs and facilities are nurturing and safe for the youths placed in our custody.”

Lawmakers have responded as well, through legislation like the one Watson proposed, to ensure that youthful offenders do get a new start, rather than the start of a long period within the penal system.

It isn’t just the juvenile system coming under scrutiny. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has warned that the state’s criminal justice system is broken because judges are required to sentence offenders to “mandatory minimums,” or a predefined number of years in prison based on the crimes they committed. He’s filed legislation to change Florida’s mandatory sentences so the system focuses more on the rehabilitation of inmates. Lawmakers are also considering legislation to allow people with prior felony convictions to more easily get professional licenses. 

Experienced and Trusted Juvenile Defense Attorneys in Orlando

Your child’s future should never be defined by a single mistake, even if that mistake led to a criminal charge. Young adults deserve the opportunity to reach adulthood without a criminal record. Talk to the attorneys at The Umansky Law Firm today if your child is facing any kind of criminal charges. 

With more than 100 years of experience, our team of former prosecutors provides a unique point of view with every case, with a strong understanding of how the juvenile justice system works. Talk to a real attorney now. Call 407-228-3838 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.