Friday, November 30, 2012

Leon County Proposes Adult Civil Citations for Minor Nonviolent Crimes

Minor non-violent offenses include but are not limited to:  simple possession of alcohol, gambling, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, petty theft and trespassing.  Any of these indiscretions has the potential of landing someone in jail.  In Florida where an estimated $2.4 billion in the fiscal year of 2010-2011 in prisons,  “non-violent offenders account for as much as seven out of 10 prison admissions.”[1] Florida’s prison population has more than doubled since 1990.   

In attempts to deal with this situation, on October 31, 2012, law enforcement officials in Leon County, Florida, announced that starting in December 2012, they would be the first county in Florida to serve as a pilot program to issue civil citations as an alternative for arresting adults.  However, in order for an adult to receive a citation, as opposed to be arrested, the crime committed must be a minor non-violent crime and a first offense.

This pilot program will mirror the successful Juvenile Civil Citation model, an alternative to arrests for minor crimes that has been in place for juveniles for the past 17 years.  The Juvenile Civil Citation program is backed by the Florida Statute 985.12 which authorizes law enforcement officers to issue, a first time youth misdemeanor offender, a civil citation in lieu of arrest.[2] This choice of a citation as opposed to arrest is based on the discretion of the law enforcement officer.

Once the youth is in the civil citation program, the child will then have to fulfill certain requirements including:  (1) undergo assessment, (2) complete a certain amount of community service hours, (3) participate in intervention services that treat underlying cause of their crime, and (4) fulfill other sanctions such as payment for damages incurred, or a letter of apology to the victim.  If the child fulfills all of the requirements he will not have an arrest record.  

The program in place for juveniles has several benefits for the offender including:  no arrest and addressing the underlying issue of the crime.  Additionally, there are benefits to the community as a whole.  For one, addressing the underlying causes of a crime reduces its re-occurrence in the future.  Additionally, it is cost-effective and frees up resources and funds.  In 2010, it was estimated that processing a child through the system would cost $5000 versus $386 for the cost of a civil citation.  Civil citations for first time misdemeanor offenders was estimated to save Florida Taxpayers $157,849,554 in one year alone.[3]

The adult civil citations programs would be similar although it would not be currently backed by a Florida Statute as it is currently in a pilot phase.  The first time offending adult who committed a minor non-violent crime would:  (1) undergo assessment, (2) complete a certain amount of community service hours, (3) participate in intervention services that treat underlying cause of their crime, and (4) fulfill other sanctions such as payment for damages.  Additionally, the adult receiving the citation would be in charge of paying all the costs of the program and if successfully completed would have no criminal record.[4] Similarly to juveniles, who receives a citation and who gets arrested for minor offenses will remain discretionary on the law enforcement officer.

The benefits that could result from this program are readily apparent and similar to those for the Juvenile Civil Citation Program.  Similar benefits include:  freeing up resources, reducing costs of processing, avoiding costs, and reducing recidivism.  The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reported that in “2009-2010, roughly 7,000 young people statewide went through the civil citation process, with just 7 percent re-offending.  In comparison, one-third of adults released from Florida prisons re-offend within three years.”[5] Leon county and proponents of this program hope that these numbers will carry over to the adult population.  Although the benefit for the community will be the same, there would be additional benefits for the first time offender from avoiding having a criminal record.

 A criminal record contains a person’s arrests and convictions regardless of the crime committed.  Imagine you are a college student and are arrested for public intoxication.  This can have a lasting effect on a person’s life and can reduce future prospects of education, financial aid and employment.   A criminal record can be particularly problematic if your job is in the area of education, the military, nursing, education, or a job involving children or the elderly.  The severity of the crime committed matters, but being convicted and/or arrested for any crime can have a detrimental effect.  A first time offender would potentially be spared these consequences through the program.

There are some who might oppose this program but there are several additional points to consider.  The point of the system in place is not only to punish people for their crimes but also to prevent future crimes.  Implementing this program would allow for the offender to be punished by way of fulfilling the necessary requirements and could serve to mitigate future crimes as it does in the Juvenile Civil Citation program.  It is also important to reiterate that this program is meant only for first-time offenders and so if a person commits a second offense they can be jailed for that.

Additionally, The Florida Smart Justice Council stated that in 2011, 33 percent of non-violent drug offenders repeat within three years.  However, 82 percent of those who complete community drug treatment successfully avoid re-offending within three years. “[1] The fact that the offender must address through intervention services the underlying issue of their crime is helpful in mitigating future crimes.  It is not necessary for the first time offender to be sent to prison in order to “learn their lesson.”

Elizabeth Rivera
Blogger, Criminal Law Brief 



  1. From a purely economic perspective, this is appealing since it keeps transaction costs down for the police and defendant. However, with reduced costs will police issue more citations than arrests? It would seem this invites police to issue citations liberally, which in full custodial arrest is not practical. It will be interesting to see how it works out with adults.

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