Leon County First to Issue Civil Citations in Lieu of Criminal Arrests

November 8, 2012

The State of Florida's criminal justice system has become so overburdened that alternatives are being sought to relieve the pressure. The criminal justice system has seen success using alternatives to arresting juvenile offenders. The use of civil citations in juvenile cases has been successful in Miami, as well as in Leon County. Criminal lawyers in Miami, Florida have long been proponents of a change in the system that will allow for issuing citations instead of making arrests in minor criminal cases. Leon County was chosen to run the pilot program because it has great success over the past 17 years using a similar program for juvenile offenders. Miami has also had great success with the program for juveniles. Statistics show that of the 7,000 juvenile offenders receiving citations, only 7% re-offended.

If the program is successful in Leon County, it could be implemented statewide. Alternatives to incarceration could save tax payers millions of dollars and decrease the pressure on the department of corrections. The program would only apply to non-violent offenders. The program will allow police officers to use their discretion to determine whether an adult offender should be arrested or receive a civil citation. The program will only be offered for offenders with no prior criminal record. These first time offenders would be saved the embarrassment of an arrest. Additionally, first-time offenders will not have to come up with the necessary funds to post a bond.

The new program will mostly apply to adults arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as petit theft or possession of marijuana. Currently, Miami police officers will arrest offenders accused of those offenses, however, the officers usually issue these individuals a "promise to appear" rather than carting them off to jail. A "promise to appear" is technically an arrest with the only difference being that the violators are not taken to jail or required to post a bond. Issuing a promises to appear is left to the discretion of police officers. Cooperative defendants are usually issued this courtesy, while non-compliant or combative defendants are taken to jail.

The plan being implemented in Leon County will required offenders to take part in an assessment with 72 hours of the issuance of the citation, perform 25 hours of community service, undergo treatment for drugs or gambling that led to the commission of the offense, and be required to bear the costs of both the evaluation and treatment. Most are in favor of the plan as it will reduce the population in the county jail, along with a significant cost reduction by limiting mandatory medical screening for defendant booked into the jail. Those involved with the program are looking forward to a statewide implementation. However, there are certain areas of the state that are not as receptive as Leon County. If Leon County can show the cost savings at their county jail, other jurisdictions may follow suit.

Tallahassee Plans Citations as Arrest Alternative, NBC-2.com, October 31, 2012.