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Juvenile record expungement bill on its way to the governor

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Sen. Keith Perry

Sen. Keith Perry

The Legislature has signed off on a modified reform measure that would allow juveniles who complete diversion programs to expunge their criminal records, including non-forcible felonies.

The Senate voted 38-0 on March 8 to approve HB 195 by Rep. David Smith, R-Winter Springs. Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, sponsored the companion, SB 342.

It goes next to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“This is a bill that we have heard for several years,” Perry joked. “This permits a juvenile to complete a diversion program for misdemeanor and felony offenses, other than forcible felonies, and have their non-judicial arrest record expunged.”

When he presented the bill to the Judiciary Committee in February, Smith also noted that the House approved a similar measure last session.

“It’s a pleasure to see so many people who have already heard this bill,” Smith said.

Current law permits juveniles who complete court ordered diversion to expunge their records of misdemeanor charges. The measure would allow them to expunge lower-level felonies — and lawfully deny having an arrest record.

If approved, the measure would remove a substantial barrier to college admission or employment for some 26,000 juveniles, Smith said.

“They would have the ability to look that college recruiter in the eye, that employer, to say they have never had an arrest,” Smith said.

Smith sponsored a similar measure last year, HB 93, that would have allowed juveniles who complete diversion programs to expunge their records of “any felony.”

The Senate voted 39-0 to approve a companion, SB 274, on April 7, 2021. The House sent it off to the governor’s desk with 117-0 vote two weeks later.

Some lawmakers expressed a concern at the time that the measure could apply to dangerous offenders. Supporters assured them that juveniles who commit violent offenses would not be eligible for diversion programs.

In his June 29 veto message, Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed with the critics.

“SB 274 proposed to allow the expunction of a juvenile’s non-judicial arrest record following the completion of a diversion program for any offense, including a felony,” Gov. DeSantis wrote. “I have concerns that the unfettered ability to expunge serious felonies, including sexual battery, from a juvenile’s record, may have negative impacts on public safety.”

HB 195 would exclude juveniles who are arrested on weapons charges and for forcible felonies, including murder, manslaughter, sexual battery, and carjacking.

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