Spring lawbreakers come clean on beach

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Spring Break Court is now in session.
Vacationing college students nabbed for misdemeanors like underage drinking and disorderly conduct can expect some immediate justice at this popular spring break destination. And they can avoid a criminal record by giving up a day at the beach for a day cleaning up the beach.
Starting Monday, instead of processing offenders through normal criminal channels, Bay County judges will hold court at City Hall in this Florida Panhandle resort town. The plan mirrors a similar program used at Key West for several years.
First-time offenders can keep their records clean by doing up to eight hours of community service cleaning beaches and roadways.
“They’re going to pick up trash on the side of the road they probably threw down there last night,” Police Chief J.B. Holloway said.
Other options are pleading guilty and paying a $175 fine or pleading innocent and having to return for trial. But the community service option carries a distinct advantage for youthful offenders.
“If they choose that then they don’t have a record,” Holloway said. “Mom and Daddy don’t have to know about it.”
The Spring Break Court, which opens Monday, operates seven days a week until April 4. Panama City Beach usually gets about 500,000 visitors during the four-week spring break period.
City Manager Richard Jackson said about 60 percent of those who have gone to Spring Break Court in Key West opted for the community service program.
A letter was being passed out to warn spring visitors what to expect:
“Welcome. We hope you have fun and return home safely. But know this: Some things are just plain stupid and dangerous, and if we catch you doing something stupid and dangerous that is illegal, we are going to do our best to stop you in a fair and effective way.”