ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A new report from the state is raising questions about the prosecution of juveniles accused of serious crimes in Orange and Osceola counties.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice report released Tuesday shows that the State Attorney’s Office in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, had the highest percentage of felony, violent felony and gun-related referrals for juveniles that were ultimately dropped.
The report analyzed data from referrals between Nov. 1, 2021, and Oct. 31, 2022, which included at least one felony, violent felony or firearm felony, to determine which cases the area’s state attorney’s office decided to drop and no longer pursue.
According to the data, the Ninth Judicial Circuit had 42% of juvenile felony referrals dropped, 29% of juvenile firearm-related referrals dropped and 41% of juvenile violent felony referrals dropped.
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A spokesperson for Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell responded to these findings in a statement on Tuesday.
“The State Attorney is committed to public safety, advocating for victims and protecting our community. There’s no policy in our office regarding to not file or drop cases other than to follow the law.
As far as this report is concerned on juvenile cases, we are unsure how the raw data was compiled. No one from the Department of Juvenile Justice has reached out to us to corroborate these numbers, nor have they provided a copy prior to its release to verify.”Jason Gunn, Communications Specialist for the Ninth Judicial Circuit
In the wake of a string of Pine Hills shootings in February that left 9-year-old T’yonna Major, 24-year-old Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons and 38-year-old Nathacha Augustin dead, DeSantis went after Worrell. He demanded to see records relating to Keith Moses, the suspect in the fatal shootings, which also resulted in the injuries of Brandi Major, the girl’s mother, and 29-year-old Jesse Walden, a Spectrum News 13 photographer.
Worrell fired back, saying the governor was politicizing the Pine Hills tragedy to try and get her suspended.
Since then, DeSantis asked her office for records in two human trafficking cases she dropped, to which Worrell responded by saying he was “pursuing a witch hunt.”
“As I said repeatedly over the last several months, law enforcement has a burden of probable cause when they make an arrest,” Worrell said during a March news briefing. “When that case comes over to this office, we have an ethical burden of being able to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The report does concede that not all cases are suitable for prosecution.
“For example, there may be problems obtaining evidence or witness statements,” the report states. “Additionally, for minor offenses, prosecutors may elect to devote court resources to more serious cases that present a danger to public safety. However, to protect public safety through deterring future offending and facilitating access to FLDJJ’s research-supported delinquency interventions, it is important to pursue serious delinquency cases in the court system, while also prioritizing reductions in case processing times, which reinforces FLDJJ’s priorities for rehabilitation and accountability.”
Worrell and Orange County Sheriff John Mina hosted a discussion on youth violence solutions in March and a gun violence prevention summit open to law enforcement and public officials in May to help combat crime in the community.
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