Florida bill to expunge juvenile records headed to Gov. DeSantis’ desk, again
Photo 103739303 © Chengusf | Dreamstime.com


Florida bill to expunge juvenile records headed to Gov. DeSantis’ desk, again

In response to Florida Gov. Ron Desantis' claims, the new state bill, House Bill 195, clearly excludes forcible felonies from being expunged.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will now get another chance to sign much-needed legislation allowing the expungement of criminal records for minor offenders who complete a diversion program. The Florida governor vetoed a similar state bill last year, which had passed both the state House and Senate unanimously, because DeSantis claimed it could’ve led to the expungement of forcible felonies such as rape, murder, and kidnapping.

“As a governor, you have to look at a unanimous vote every step of the way and then say, how do I disagree with every single member of the Senate and the House?” State Sen. Annette Taddeo told the Miami Herald after the governor’s veto last year.

In response to Gov. Desantis’ claims, the new state bill, House Bill 195, clearly excludes forcible felonies from being expunged. This more cautious bill to expunge juvenile records passed unanimously in the Florida House of Representatives last month and the State Senate unanimously passed it today.

According to the new bill’s lead author, State Rep. David Smith, some 26,000 juveniles in Florida could be eligible to have their records cleared if the new legislation becomes state law.  

Juvenile arrest rates have steadily declined over recent decades and reached an all-time low in 2020. Yet thousands of Floridians are saddled with the burden of having a criminal record for life due to mistakes they made when they were minors.

Obstructing the post-release lives of minors who were convicted of crimes backfires, preventing them from re-establishing themselves as productive members of society and leaving few legitimate paths to self-sufficiency. Data and experience show us that misdemeanor criminal records can keep rehabilitated offenders who have served their punishments from finding work and places to live, establishing credit, and more. A criminal record can preclude other important steps—like attending college or joining the military—that would improve these young people’s chances at putting past transgressions behind them while reducing the likelihood of recidivism.

“They would have the ability to look that college recruiter in the eye, that employer, to say they have never had an arrest,” State Rep. Smith said, describing how the bill could help young people attend college and gain employment.

Research shows that increasing access to expungement reduces the likelihood that a person will recidivate or return to criminal behavior. One of the largest empirical studies ever conducted on expungement found that only 0.6% of expungement recipients were later reconvicted for violent crimes.

In 2017, the United States Sentencing Commission concluded that when people re-enter society after serving their sentences having criminal records increases recidivism rates even when controlling for other factors. This counters the idea that harsh sentences and penalties reduce the incentives to commit crimes. In fact, the barriers that having a criminal record creates often amplifies the disruption to life, work, and family—ultimately putting society at greater risk.

By reducing recidivism, well-designed expungement programs improve public safety by giving minor offenders a better chance to successfully reintegrate into society. And with one of the most restrictive adult and youth expungement regimes in the country currently in place, Florida is in desperate need of this expungement reform relative to other states.

The proposed state legislation does not change the expungement process, it simply opens up more offenses to be eligible for expungement. Giving young people more avenues to potentially change their lives for the better, without any disadvantages to society. To receive expungement under this new bill, minors in Florida must complete a diversion program that includes rehabilitation, training, and restoration.

This more cautious legislation, designed to address Gov. DeSantis’ concerns, is a common-sense approach that benefits not just minor offenders, but society at large. It’s time to fix a broken system that is denying far too many young people a fair chance to rehabilitate themselves and start a normal life.