Florida minors arrested for felony offenses would get second chance at clean slate under new bill

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tens of thousands of Floridians who were arrested as minors would have a second chance at a clean slate under legislation currently awaiting the governor’s signature.

Juvenile justice advocates claim if signed, it would be the most impactful juvenile justice reform enacted in the state in more than a decade.

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Currently, if a minor is arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, and they complete a diversion program, they can have that arrest erased from their record by filing out some paperwork and submitting it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But if they steal items worth over $750 and are arrested for felony theft, that arrest is a lot harder to erase and can follow them for years.

Elvin Martinez, President of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, told us a felony arrest can create many barriers for young adults trying to get their lives on track.

“When you apply for college, when you try to get into the military, even in some cases if your family lives in public housing, that felony arrest can have a major impact,” said Martinez.

Martinez helped push legislation this past session that would streamline the process for minors arrested for some felonies who complete diversion programs, to have that arrest expunged.

“26,000 children would be eligible to have their felony arrest record expunged,” said Martinez.

State Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) sponsored the bill.

“What we want to do is not be soft on crime. That’s absolutely the last thing we want to do,” said Perry.

Perry said the goal is to give first-time offenders a second chance, with the hope that keeping them out of the justice system will lead to better outcomes.

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“The longer someone is in the justice system, the more likely they are to recidivate, which means there’s more victims of crime,” said Perry.

Getting into a diversion program will still be at the discretion of the judge and prosecutor.

The bill also specifically excludes minors accused of forcible felonies and firearm crimes from eligibility.

“Those were the guardrails that we put in on this bill,” said Perry.

The governor vetoed the bill last year because it lacked those guardrails, but supporters are hopeful it will earn his signature this year.

“We just have to do things to change the dynamics of someone’s life if we can and protect the public from future crimes,” said Perry.

The governor has until May 20 to sign the bill, veto it or let it go into law without his signature.