In an attempt to create an alternative to prison time for low-level criminal offenders, Florida Senator Darryl Rouson last week proposed a bill (SB 1356) identical to the bill filed in September (HB 187) that would allow offenders to enlist in military service rather than face incarceration.
The option to enlist in lieu of going to prison is only eligible for first-time criminal offenders who are ages 25 or younger, whose primary offense is a misdemeanor, and whose sentencing for imprisonment is no more than four years.
In order to fulfill the requirements involved in opting for the military service sentencing instead of prison time, an offender must achieve a minimum acceptable score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, then successfully complete basic training and his or her first term of enlistment.
As for fees and court costs attributed to an offender’s sentencing, he or she must satisfy all fines and other financial obligations imposed for the offense by the completion of his or her first term of enlistment. If an offender fails to complete any of these requirements, they will be ordered to return to the sentencing court to be re-sentenced.
While it is unclear how many other states authorize judges to allow military service in lieu of prison time, similar actions to SB 1356 and HB 187 were taken in 2005 when the state of Connecticut considered a bill (HB 5728) that allowed judges to sentence first-time non-violent offenders to military service. Aside from actually serving in the military as a sentence for a crime, some states allow military service only to seal or expunge an offender’s criminal record.
The two bills will be reviewed during the upcoming legislative session that starts on January 11th. Even if they are approved, the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces are not obligated to accept a court’s ruling to allow an offender to forgo prison time, and can deny an offender’s enlistment if they see fit.
For example, in the Army’s recruiting regulations, it states that “any applicant who, as a condition for any civil conviction or adverse disposition or any other reason through a civil or criminal court, is ordered or subjected to a sentence that implies or imposes enlistment into the Armed Forces of the United States is not eligible for enlistment.”
Similarly, the Air Force regulations regarding enlistment as a form of sentencing states that an applicant is ineligible of he or she is “released from restraint, or civil suit, or charges on the condition of entering military service, if the restraint, civil suit, or criminal charges would be reinstated if the applicant does not enter military service.”
As for the Marine Corps, its regulations state that “applicants may not enlist as an alternative to criminal prosecution, indictment, incarceration, parole, probation, or another punitive sentence.”
The Navy and Coast Guard are the only two branches that do not have specific provisions in its recruiting regulations that denies enlistment for criminal offenders who were sentenced by a judge. However, they both are directed by a “general protocol” that does not accept applicants who are seeking service as an alternative to a criminal sentence.
If either SB 1356 or HB 187 are approved, they would go into effect on July 1st, 2022.
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Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.