Our office previously wrote an in-depth article about the Pinellas Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion (APAD) Program that went operational on October 17th, 2016. The new program enables individuals who commit twelve different misdemeanor offenses to avoid a formal arrest and a trip to the jail if they admit their guilt and agree to do community service. Those persons caught committing crimes are entitled to sidestep the criminal justice system three times. The earlier article pointed to the lack of any Florida law that would authorize Pinellas county to create an adult pre-arrest diversion program. It also raised a host of constitutional violation concerns and the unilateral elimination of crime victim’s rights.
Changing Perceptions of the APAD Program
The local media initially applauded the APAD program. See: St. Petersburg Joins Sheriff’s Ambitious Criminal Justice Reform Program and Editorial: Pinellas Sheriff Offers Smart Pre-Arrest Diversion Proposal.
Sheriff Gualtieri’s political opponent for re-election accused him of creating the APAD program to artificially reduce Pinellas County’s crime rates. His argument could make sense because those person’s caught committing criminal offenses, but diverted through APAD, are not reported to the FDLE since they are never booked into the jail. See: Gualtieri Scrambles to Hide Skyrocketing Crime Rates in Pinellas Under His Watch. Sheriff Gualtieri’s own deputies have also openly voiced displeasure over the program and there have been whispers in the law enforcement community that the Sheriff has higher political aspirations. See: Wait What? APAD is Live With No Direction and Bob Threw Us Under the Bus Today.
The local media seems to have now reversed their earlier approval of the program, commenting that “It sounds like a sweet deal for minor criminals, roustabouts and scofflaws.” They also point out that “The Sheriff has invested around $300,000 in taxpayer money to hire six workers that administer APAD and process candidates around the clock 365 days a year, so in one sense, taxpayers are paying extra so that deputies do not arrest people.” See: You Paid For It: $300,000 Pinellas Arrest Diversion Program Sidesteps Justice System. Local NBC affiliate News Channel 8 also aired a special investigative report on the APAD program where they asked viewers to “Judge for Yourself if it is a Good Investment or Another Government Boondoggle.” Watch the Video: Criminals Avoiding Jail by Investigative Reporter Mark Douglas.
The Program’s Impact on Misdemeanor Case Numbers
In 2015, 22,825 misdemeanor case numbers were created by the Clerk of Court. That number was down to 20,789 misdemeanor case numbers at the close of 2016. The NBC report indicated that between October 17th, 2016 and December 28th, 2016 six hundred persons had avoided arrest and formal charges because of Pinellas County’s new APAD program. This seventy-two day period translates into 8.3 people per day being diverted through APAD.
The misdemeanor case numbers created by the Clerk from the last unaffected APAD full calendar year of 2015 were 22,825. But not all of those cases were prosecuted. Rather, a conservative estimate is that 20% of those cases likely resulted in a “no information.” That left approximately 18,260 cases to be litigated in Pinellas County’s six misdemeanor divisions (E,F,G,H,L & R). This represented a 2015 per division case load of approximately 3,043 misdemeanor cases. Assuming the continuing trend of 8.3 APAD diversions per day, there should be a total of 3,295 fewer misdemeanor cases over the course of 2017. In other words, more cases will be be diverted than the amount previously handled by an entire misdemeanor division.
In the January 1st 2017 edition of the Florida Bar News, Managing Editor Mark D. Killian revealed that the Florida Supreme Court had notified the legislature of their need to eliminate some county court judgeship positions, saying one county court judgeship each should be decertified in Pasco, Putnam, Monroe, Brevard , Charlotte, and collier Counties. See: Court Calls for 12 New Judges, Says Six County Judges Are Not Needed.
In the same issued opinion, the Florida Supreme Court stated:
“Over the next twelve months, we will be closely monitoring the judicial workload of several other counties that demonstrate a negative need... to determine whether additional decertifications should occur in next year’s certification of need opinions.”
The Continued Operation of APAD Will Harm Our Local Judiciary
Because the APAD Program appears to be on track to “divert” over 3,000 misdemeanor cases from the Pinellas County criminal justice system in 2017, we believe we run the risk of the Florida Supreme Court seeing a “negative need” for the continued existence of six misdemeanor divisions. Each division processed about 3,000 misdemeanor cases in past years (18,000 cases divided by 6). Accordingly, it may be that the continued operation of the APAD Program will have the unintended effect of causing the Florida Supreme Court to conclude that one (or more) County Criminal Judge positions should be “decertified.”
This adult pre-arrest “diversionary” system is completely unsanctioned by law, unapproved by any legislative body, and unsupported by any constitutional theory of due process. It is on course to cause the legitimate justice system to shrink and be diminished in its capacity to afford an accused with all of his rights under the law. The APAD program represents a hand-off of the criminal justice process from a fair and impartial magistrate trained and experienced in the law to six bureaucratic clerks working in the sheriff’s office who are guided only by a “policy” and a “memorandum of understanding.”
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