Orange County Endorses a Civil Citation Program for First-Time Offenders Charged with Minor Crimes

April 7, 2022 Criminal Defense

Tuesday morning was a bright one for Florida residents worried about having their future ruined due to low-level misdemeanor offenses. Orange County commissioners approved a resolution endorsing a program that would keep those accused of minor misdemeanor crimes away from incarceration. In this blog post, we’ll cover the purpose of the program, the program itself, and much more!

The Purpose of the Program

This program was announced in March of 2022 by State Attorney Monique Worrell, a top prosecutor in Florida. Speaking about the program, Worrell stated that “[t]his program will serve as a mechanism to ensure that individuals are incarcerated only when absolutely necessary to ensure public safety.” She continued, “[t]his program is very important because we recognize the trauma that comes from being incarcerated for individuals who have never been in touch with the criminal legal system before.” Finally, she views it as a way to hold the offenders accountable but also give them a chance to change their lives before they become entrenched and weighed down by a criminal record.

This 90-day pilot program came about via a recommendation offered last year by Orange County Mayor, Jerry Demings’, citizen task force. According to the task force’s website:

In the span of three weeks during 2020, Orange County experienced seven shootings involving children 17 and younger. Two of these tragic and senseless shootings resulted in fatalities; one child was just three years old. Many of these shootings have been tied to gang violence. Mayor Demings consulted with faith leaders and community members about creating a Citizens Safety Task Force aimed at reducing and preventing gun violence and violent crime in the community.

The task force is comprised of 30+ members representing diverse backgrounds who can help identify solutions to longstanding community problems. The participants include young adults, youth mentors, faith-based leaders, behavioral health professionals, community advocates, law enforcement, education and prevention professionals, and service-based organizations.

The task force’s goal is to “identify solutions and strategies to reduce and prevent gun violence and violent crime in the community.” So far, the task force has issued reports, presentations, and final recommendations, including this program.

How Does the Program Work?

The program mirrors an already-formed civil citation program available for youth offenders where law enforcement officers may issue civil citations to those who are not repeat offenders and are only accused of low-level misdemeanors, including:

Offenders who are eligible for the program would receive a civil citation, be required to pay the $175 program fee, attend educational courses about the charged offense, and will be mandated to complete community service hours. Those who complete all requirements will receive a certificate and will avoid all criminal charges. In some cases, the victim must agree to the issuance of a citation as opposed to criminal charges.

This program commenced on April 1st. It is only available to first-time offenders. Domestic violence crimes, stalking, cyber harassment or stalking, and injunction violations are not eligible to be converted into a civil citation under this program.

A Surprising Aid Against Discrimination

This program promises various benefits – the most obvious of which is alleviating the burden for first-time offenders unlikely to be a permanent part of the criminal justice system if they can avoid a useless criminal charge for a low-level misdemeanor offense. But that is not the only benefit – it can aid in the battle against discrimination.

Worrell stated that this program bars officers from making the decision to give a citation as opposed to arresting based on the offender’s gender, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, age, status, disability, race, or color. This is important because, in a 2020 report by the Orlando Sentinel, it was revealed that the juvenile citation program in Central Florida counties falls victim to racial disparities and inconsistencies in use. Worrell states that “[t]he reason that we’ve made [non-discrimination] a part of our policy is because we’re aware of the fact that historically these disparities exist … [w]hen we review the data from the program, this is something that we’ll be reviewing, and when we come to the point where we need to make any adjustments, we’ll take those things into consideration.”

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

Not all counties are on board with the civil citation program. If you are facing criminal charges in Florida, ensure you are informed of your rights and zealously advocated for by a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorneyDon Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have years of experience defending Floridians against a wide array of criminal charges and will stand in your corner. Call us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.

Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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