Politicians can certainly portray themselves as tough on crime. It is common for Republican candidates to do this, particularly when they are running for office. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be willing to ignore reasonable reforms in the criminal justice system to achieve political expediency.
Nearly a month after criticizing the First Step Act which has been shown to significantly reduce recidivism, the governor has vetoed a widely supported criminal justice bill, underlining his efforts to position him to the left of former president Donald Trump. As part of his presidential campaign in 2024, the governor is highlighting his tough stance against crime. This is why he has vowed that he will repeal the First Step Act.
The bill, HB605, would have expanded the eligibility of adults who were charged but never convicted, arrested, but not charged, or found not guilty to include those who were not charged. This decision disappointed criminal justice groups and surprised supporters. The bill was unanimously supported by the Florida Senate and received only two “no votes” in the House.
Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed on Tuesday a bill that would have allowed adults to expunge their criminal records even if it was done as a child.
Florida law does not allow someone to have their criminal record cleared as an adult for an offense that was cleared as a minor. The bipartisan bill HB605 would allow someone a second opportunity, as long as the prior crime was not charged as an adult. The bill was passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate almost unanimously.
The bill for this year, HB605, will only apply to those who have been arrested, but the charges were dropped, were not charged by prosecutors, or were found innocent. The bill would prevent expungement for people who were charged but had the charges dropped because they were found incapable of standing trial.
DeSantis, in short, vetoed the bill that would’ve allowed people who weren’t convicted to expunge any record of arrests or charges. It will be harder for them, even if they have not committed a crime, to find employment.
State Rep. David Smith (a Republican who sponsored the bill) said in May that the bill would allow people to “work at their highest level of ability” and that it could help solve the worker shortage in the Sunshine State.
Smith stated that “These people have never been convicted in Florida of any crime.”
He told The Tampa Bay Times he was “disappointed”, but he remains “committed” to a good justice reform that gives deserving Floridians a second chance.
Why would DeSantis reject what seems to be an easy bill? It doesn’t make sense for people to be able to expunge records if they have never been convicted of any crime. According to a recent report, it does not make sense.
Some of the governor’s advisors said, however, that the move was in line with the message the governor wants to send out as a presidential candidate who is tough on crime.
“Gov. DeSantis is a leader in law and order. He is well-intentioned but seems to be worried about ratifying a more lenient approach on criminal records”, according to an adviser who knows his thinking.
The person continued, “The California and Soros prosecution’s view isn’t what he wants in Florida”, referring to liberal billionaire George Soros who has been supporting progressive prosecutors at elections across the country.
DeSantis’s supporters said that signing the bill as the law would have sent mixed messages and “opened him up to criticism” since he has been vocally opposed to Trump’s First Step Act.
DeSantis may have vetoed this measure out of concern for how it might make him appear to his conservative base. It is strange that the majority of conservatives voted for the First Step Act which was a more comprehensive criminal justice reform bill than the Florida law.
DeSantis, by rejecting the bipartisan legislation, has missed an opportunity to fix the flaws of the current system and give individuals a chance to rebuild. I can only think of one argument in support of DeSantis’ veto: it may have unintended effects. Even if the person was not charged or convicted, expunging their criminal record could hinder law enforcement from assessing an individual’s background in investigations.
This is not a good argument. In our justice system, one is innocent unless proven guilty. The state should not be allowed to punish an individual by putting the arrest or charges on their record if it did not charge them or prove they were guilty.
There is no reason for someone to be forced to have something on their record if they are not convicted of any crime. This is a violation from a liberty standpoint – the government should not be allowed to punish someone who was only suspected of committing a crime. This veto is even more disturbing because it was probably done to boost DeSantis’ political ambitions.