Florida lawmakers don’t have authority to broaden scope of state prosecutor, attorney claims

Orange County felon is fourth of 20 to have voter fraud charges dropped

Last week a judge dismissed criminal charges against an Orange County man for illegally voting in the 2020 election.

Peter Washington is the fourth of the 20 people arrested by election police on accusation of voter fraud to have the charges thrown out.

Amendment Four allows people with felony convictions to have their rights restored, unless they were convicted of murder or a sex crime.

Peter Washington and the other defendants all had those convictions, but they thought their rights had been restored because they were allowed to register to vote and the state sent them voter identification cards.

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Washington lost his job after the August arrest.

And now, a bill that the legislature passed during the last special session changed the law that allowed the charges to be dismissed.

“It’s been a lot of sleepless nights wondering what if,” Washington said. “Financially, I lost my job because of it.”

Six months later, Washington said that having the charges dropped is a relief.

“Its like a weight lifted off you,” Washington said.

In a one-page ruling, Circuit Judge Jennifer Harris grants Washington’s motion to dismiss and dismissed the charges against him for illegally voting in the 20-20 election, based on jurisdiction.

The 20 people across the state were arrested by Governor DeSantis’s election police and the charges were brought, not by local prosecutors, but by the statewide prosecutor.

“The office of statewide prosecution does not have the statutory authority to prosecute this matter,” Judge Harris wrote.

Washington’s case is the fourth case around the state to be dismissed on the same basis.

Washington’s attorney, Roger Weeden, is working with attorneys representing the other defendants.

“It was overreach by the statewide prosecutor,” Weeden said. “It says that our arguments that the statewide does not have the authority to bring these cases is the right argument,” Weeden said.

“If the legislature wants a centralized prosecutor with the power to pursue any perceived illegality throughout the state of Florida, the Florida legislature has the authority to create a centralized system,” Judge Harris wrote.

That is exactly what the legislature did two weeks ago.

During the special session lawmakers passed Senate bill 4-b.

“Authorizing the office of statewide prosecution to investigate and prosecute crimes involving voting in an election for a federal or state office,” according to the bill.

“They’re clearly trying to maintain control over these 20 cases,” Weeden said.

With the change in law, can the statewide prosecutor again go after the four people who have had their charges dismissed?

The legislature does not have the authority to broaden the scope of the statewide prosecutor because the statewide prosecutor’s authority is granted by the constitution, Weeden said.

Expanding that authority requires a constitutional amendment, Weeden said. He and other attorneys plan to argue the point if the state tries to bring charges again.

“Generally, that’s the rule of law,” Weeden says. “If the constitution grants authority to an agency then to extend that authority would require an amendment to the constitution,” Weeden said.

For Washington, it means more waiting to see what will come.

“It’s like a nightmare that wont ever go away, and you’re like when will I wake up and see a better day,” Washington said.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.