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Does a 15-year-old underage drinker qualify for civil diversion?

A 15-year-old student at Flagler Palm Coast High School was recently caught allegedly trying to bring a cup of alcohol on a school bus after drinking some of it at a bus stop. Luckily, a Flagler County deputy offered him a newly-available second chance.

Instead of arresting him for underage drinking, the deputy issued the student a civil citation. This is part of a statewide juvenile diversion program meant to help first-time, misdemeanor offenders get back on the right track.

Although juvenile delinquency proceedings are confidential, juvenile arrest records are not -- and they can result in serious, long-term consequences. They appear on criminal background checks, which later in life can limit young offenders’ options for education, housing and employment. A civil citation brings the young person into the juvenile system in order to provide services such as alcohol treatment, but not so far that the child is marked as a criminal for life.

After successful pilot programs, in 2001 the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring all local law enforcement agencies to develop civil citation programs. As last as August, however, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that the secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice had come down to urge law enforcement in Volusi and Flagler counties to step up their participation, which they promised to do.

That promise being kept is good news for young offenders in our area. Officers, using their discretion, can offer civil citations instead of arresting young people who qualify. State law only requires that they be first-time, misdemeanor offenders accused of crimes that do not involve firearms, sexual offenses or gang activity. Both the teen and his or her parents must also agree to the participate.

However, each local community runs its own program, and the qualification requirements may vary. Little information is currently available about the exact requirements for the civil citation program in the 7th Circuit, which covers Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.

In this case, however the officer told a Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter that the 15-year-old’s arrest history was no bar to a civil citation instead of an underage drinking arrest. He is recommending the teen perform 25 hours of community service and be entered into outpatient alcohol abuse treatment.

A juvenile arrest shouldn’t results in a long-term stigma. We hope to see more young people receiving interventions that can help instead of hinder them.


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