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Horowitz: DeSantis vetoes radical juvenile expungement bill passed unanimously by … Florida Republicans?

Op-ed
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It takes a very special sort of leftist to believe — amid the juvenile crime wave — that the justice system is too strict on juvenile criminals and requires further leniency. Yet Republicans in Florida decided to use their trifecta control to further loosen laws against juvenile criminals rather than passing enhanced sentencing and strengthening deterrent. Thankfully, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the bill pushed by his own party.

In April, the GOP-controlled Florida legislature unanimously voted to permit a juvenile who completed a "diversion program" for any offense, including violent felony offenses, to have his arrest record expunged. SB 274 does not provide any exceptions for those with violent offenses or multiple felonies. Those convicted of first-time misdemeanors can already apply for expungement under current law, so by definition, this bill was designed for juvenile gang members who pose some of the greatest threats to our streets.

This is the type of bill that has circulated in the legislatures of New York and California, yet GOP leaders placed it on the floor in April, and it passed without any opposition. The vote in the Senate was: 39 yes, 0 no, and 1 absent; in the House it was 117 yes, 0 no, and 3 absent.

This is quite a shocking response to the crime wave. In 2020, Jacksonville experienced a 13% increase in homicides and a 25% increase in aggravated assaults. Homicides this year in Miami are already 30% higher than this time last year. Why are they still acting like crime has been solved and we can afford to further empty the prisons?

While not all the crime is caused by juveniles, they are increasingly composing a greater share of both the shooting suspects and victims across the country because there is simply no strong deterrent against them. In a shocking mass shooting in Miami last month, it was a group of teenagers who shot 20 people and killed two. In Volusia County on June 1, a 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl broke into a house and engaged in a shootout with sheriff's deputies. According to Sheriff Mike Chitwood, the 14-year-old had previously been arrested for burning down a children's home she was sent to live in, but the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice made a determination that she was not eligible to be held in a secure facility.

Now, at a time when we are already too lenient on juveniles and it's so hard to get them behind bars or into a secure facility, expungement would reset the clock and ignore aggravated assaults, carjackings, arson – and even rape and murder.

"Anybody that sits back and tells you that we're a model in the state of Florida – we're a failure in the state of Florida, just like every other state that embarks on this measure," said Sheriff Chitwood. "We're not saying we don't believe in a holistic approach to juvenile crime. Absolutely, positively. But when you got somebody who wants to do big-boy crimes or big-girl crimes, then treat them accordingly. Don't try to mollycoddle them and pat them on the head and say if we hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya' we're gonna change your behavior. It's not going to happen. They laugh at us."

Roxana Sanchez, a 36-year-old mother of two, is a perfect example of Sheriff Chitwood's warning. In May, she was gunned down by a 17-year-old during a carjacking in Orange County. Guess what: The suspect, Ja'Quarius McCray, was out on conditional release for an armed burglary he committed in 2020. Again, had DeSantis not vetoed this bill, these sorts of crimes would be expunged and it would be even harder to keep dangerous felons behind bars for subsequent crimes.

It's in this vein that Gov. Ron DeSantis took the unprecedented step of vetoing a bill passed unanimously by his own party. "I have concerns that an unfettered [law] to expunge serious felonies, including sexual battery, from a juvenile's record may have negative impacts on public safety," DeSantis said in his veto letter. On the same day, DeSantis also vetoed SB 146, a bill requiring high school students to participate in an outside civics experience or event and write a paper on it. The bill, supported unanimously by Republicans, would easily have served as a recruiting tool for groups like BLM and any number of Marxist organizations that monopolize the world of "civics."

Clearly, the few conservatives in the legislature are not paying attention to the bills placed before them and are just going along with what the special interests put on their plates. This is why it's so important for conservatives to engage state legislatures in red states and pressure them to pass bills that reflect sane priorities, not those of San Francisco.

According to state law, juveniles can only be held in detention for 21 days. Why have Republicans not fixed this insane categorical loophole for some of the most violent criminals? Why do they not care about victims? Because conservatives have failed to understand that red state legislatures provide more opportunity to create positive (or negative) change than anything that happens in Washington.

Wanted: a state where both the GOP governor and legislature care more about victims and public safety than criminals. At present, no such state exists. We must fight for it.
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