Bill could help erase juvenile records

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Minors who complete diversion programs for felony or misdemeanor offenses could have their criminal records expunged by the state, under a proposal approved by a House panel on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, received bipartisan support from the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and is headed to the Judiciary Committee.

Watson’s proposal (HB 615) would expand current law, which restricts minors with felony offenses from seeking to have their criminal records cleared after completing diversion programs.

Such diversion programs are designed to keep minors from entering the juvenile justice system by seeking to rehabilitate them and prevent them from committing crimes again. Law enforcement officers who interact with minors at the time of the offenses or state attorneys decide whether minors should be placed in diversion programs.

Law enforcement would still have discretion over the diversion decisions under the bill. To erase their criminal records, minors would need to give the Florida Department of Law Enforcement certificates from state attorneys saying they meet the qualifications for expunction.

FDLE estimates it would cost the agency roughly $24,000 to process the applications for juveniles, a cost that Watson said would be an investment in Florida’s youth.

A similar proposal (SB 700) in the Senate has passed two of its three committees.