ORLANDO, Fla. — Prosecutors drop more charges against Orange and Osceola teenagers than their counterparts anywhere else in the state of Florida, according to a new report from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) released Tuesday.
The Ninth Circuit State Attorney’s office dropped – either before or during the prosecution process – 41% of all violent felony charges juveniles faced between November 2021 and October 2022, compared to 21% state-wide, the agency said.
Prosecutors in Florida’s other major cities – Miami and Tampa – dismissed 30% and 26% of violent felony charges against juveniles respectively, during that time.
The pattern repeated for all felony charges, not just violent ones, as well as felony charges involving guns.
“When serious juvenile offenses are not prosecuted, youth are not held accountable for their actions nor are they receiving effective services that will keep them from reoffending,” DJJ Secretary Eric Hall said.
While no prosecutors were called out by name, the report continued the agency’s recent pattern of casting State Attorney Monique Worrell, who oversees the Ninth Circuit office, in a negative light.
Worrell has been at odds with the state government since late last year, when she proposed reforms over juvenile justice cases that would give prosecutors and judges more oversight.
The microscope intensified after the Pine Hills shooting in February, when Gov. DeSantis called Worrell out for being soft on crime and speculation began growing about him removing Worrell from office.
Worrell, a criminal justice reform advocate, ran a liberal outsider campaign centered around reforming the system when she was elected to office and has been one of the few prominent elected officials willing to call DeSantis and his staff out as she defended her practices.
“The State Attorney is committed to public safety, advocating for victims and protecting our community. There’s no policy in our office regarding to no file or drop cases other than to follow the law,” spokesman Jason Gunn wrote in response to the report. “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.”
In response to a follow-up email, DJJ officials said they sourced their data from the Juvenile Justice Information System, commonly referred to as JJIS. WFTV forwarded that response to Worrell’s team.
Recently, Worrell has said outright her office doesn’t move forward with cases they cannot stand behind, and has called out law enforcement officials for providing weak evidence or failing to provide contact information for people who could possibly testify against suspects. She recently dropped charges for teenagers accused of murdering another teenager outside a football game because she said a significant amount of doubt remained.
She has championed a report showing a more than 90% conviction rate for cases her team took to trial in the first quarter of this year.
“The Department of Juvenile Justice briefing report is very concerning,” Sheriff John Mina, who has been at odds with Worrell, wrote. “I have always said that young people who make mistakes and commit low-level, non-violent crimes should be diverted out of the criminal justice system, but those who commit violent felonies and terrorize this community – particularly through gun violence - must be held accountable.”
Orlando Police administrators declined to comment.
You can read the full report here. For reference, Brevard and Seminole counties are in the 18th circuit, Lake, Sumter and Marion counties are in the 5th circuit, Polk is in the 10th and Volusia and Flagler counties are in the 7th.
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