In a sign that the Florida legislature has recognized the impact of criminal records, the Florida State Senate has moved to make the Expeal process for those with juvenile records automatic, expunging certain records as soon as a minor turns 18.
Introduced last year on September 29, 2015 by Sen. Nancy Detert, the bill passed unanimously when put to a full vote on January 28, 2016 during its 3rd reading. In fact, throughout the entire voting history of this bill, not a single Senator has voted against it, a major show of support.
SB 386 allows for those who committed certain offenses prior to turning 18 to file for expungement. The petition has to be filed before you turn 21, but if you forget or you can't afford the $75 fee to FDLE or the filing fees in your county court, they will be expunged automatically upon turning 21. It also removes a requirement that a petition for expungement happen no later than 12 months after completion of a diversion program, a cutoff that hurt a lot of people. This is a big change from the previous automatic expungement age of 24 or 26, depending on the charges and criminal history of the application.
There are limitations, of course. Sen. Detert pointed out that "The automatic [expungement] does not apply if the minor is classified as a serious or habitual juvenile offender, or if the minor has been committed to a juvenile correctional facility or prison." While working with the sponsor of the corresponding bill in the Florida State House of Representatives, Rep. Christopher Latvala, Detert said a few other changes were made. "Some improvements were made to clarify that a person who was denied early expungement is still eligible to have their record expunged at the age of 21 if they meet the eligibility requirements."
This issue is very personal for Detert. When her son was five years old, he and a few other neighborhood kids made a bike ramp out of three sheets of drywall they had found. According to Detert, "They got arrested, fingerprinted, booked, had his picture [taken] ... and had to go to rehabilitation. I had just moved to this state, like three weeks before. I was pretty shocked that this was the system. They're five-years-old. So, then, when he went to get a job when he was an adult, they said, 'well, do you realize you have a police record?' Then, he said, 'does it say on there that I was five?'"
Detert says kids who get in trouble for mischief and pranks deserve a second chance. "So, these kind of you know, toilet papering, break a sheet of drywall, all minor things. They deserve to be expunged on your 21st birthday, if you're a normal kid, who happened to be a bit of a prankster. Kind of labeled this the 'Help the Moms of America,'" she stated, to laughter.
Another mother, fellow Senator Anitere Flores supported Detert and the bill. "Thank you very much, Senator Detert," she said. "And thank you for brining this issue to our attention. As a mother of a seven-year old and a four-year old boy, not that I anticipate there will be similar issues, but you never know."
Senator Darren Soto, a co-sponsor on SB 386, also signaled the resolve of his support, stating that "In this modern era, we see arrests and convictions follow youth for years and a lot of them don't have the money to pay an attorney to expunge the records quicker or also address it with future employer. So, we've got to keep up with the times, and I really appreciate your work on this, Senator Detert."
HB 147, the companion bill in the House of Representatives, has been making similar movements through its own process. Originally filed on September 10, 2015, it has made its way to the Second Reading Calendar, one step before the final vote on sending the bill to the Governor's desk.
Without public support, this bill could still fail to make it out of the House or end up being vetoed by the Governor. Make sure you are registered to vote and you get in touch with the Governor as well as your State Representative and State Senator. Letting your federal representatives in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate know your position is just as important.