ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell launched the Ninth Judicial Circuit’s first-ever Adult Civil Citation Program on Friday.
The pilot program is slated to last 90 days and will seek to resolve first-time misdemeanor offences with civil citations, educational programs and community service in place of criminal charges, according to the state attorney’s office.
Worrell said her two decades of experience as a defense attorney gave her a unique, more empathetic perspective as she took the role of district state attorney, especially when most people in her role are not as acutely aware of the detriment of incarceration.
“There’s always going to be people who think that everyone who does anything wrong should go to jail, right? And, you’re not really going to be able to change the minds of people like that. But I’ve worked in this system for 22 years, and I understand that everyone does not need to go to jail for everything and that incarceration should be reserved as a last and final resort for individuals who pose a danger to our community.”
Civil citation programs have already been implemented in different parts of the state, such as in Florida’s Fifth Judicial District where the rules are largely identical to Worrell’s plan. A key reason for those similarities is how the programs make no changes to state law and are in fact rooted in a 2018 Florida statute regarding prearrest diversion programs.
The Legislature encourages local communities and public or private educational institutions to implement prearrest diversion programs that afford certain adults who fulfill specified intervention and community service obligations the opportunity to avoid an arrest record.901.41 (1)
The Ninth Circuit’s current diversion methods take place after one is arrested, Worrell said, and the pilot program intends to avoid inflicting the trauma of being booked by going with an alternative — a $175 fee, classes and community service — to correct bad behavior while inspiring more trust in law enforcement.
“The major difference here is that with our current conversion program, individuals have to be arrested, they have an official case number, their name is in the system, they’re fingerprinted, they have mugshots taken. Those are the things that this program will alleviate, these individuals will no longer go through that process to be able to take advantage of the diversion programs that we already have in place,” Worrell said.
That opportunity will be offered for the following first-time misdemeanor offenses:
- Possession of drug paraphernalia.
- Possession of marijuana under 20 grams.
- Misdemeanor assault.
- Misdemeanor battery (under some circumstances).
- Retail theft of a shopping cart.
- Trespass on property other than a structure or conveyance.
- Petit theft.
- Criminal mischief involving less than $100.
- Disorderly conduct.
- Possession of alcoholic beverages by a person under the age of 21.
- Other misdemeanor offenses may be deemed appropriate at the discretion of participating law enforcement agencies and the State Attorney’s Office.
As far as who gets to decide whether to recommend criminal charges or the diversion program, Worrell said it will be law enforcement’s responsibility to do so on a case-by-case basis. The 2018 statute already provides guidance that an arresting officer may opt to issue a civil citation when an offense is not domestic, not traffic-related, requires restitution of no more than $100, if the adult is cooperative with valid identification and does not have an arrest record nor a previously issued civil citation.
Once a person completes a civil citation program, no criminal charges will be filed and the case will be dropped.
Worrell said she pushed to impose the civil citation program for adults in the Ninth District after attending meetings with the Orange County Citizens Safety Task Force, which presented recommendations in March 2021 meant to boost community safety, reduce poverty and improve overall neighborhood conditions, among other items.
“Within weeks of the (November 2020) election, not even with me having taken office yet. The mayor assembled a task force on citizen safety, and this was one of the recommendations that came out of that task force, that we should impose an adult civil citation program,” Worrell said. “So because that was so much in alignment with my personal beliefs, that we should only incarcerate those individuals who are a danger to our society, that was easy to take on as a priority of my administration.”