HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Controversy is surrounding Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to suspend Orlando’s top prosecutor, Monique Worrell as questions surround the cases that she’s handled in Orange and Osceola counties.
The governor announced Worrell’s suspension on Wednesday, citing several cases in which he claims Worrell failed to keep dangerous criminals locked up and allowed them to commit more horrendous crimes.
The decisions has brought up questions about how much leeway state prosecutors have in these types of cases.
“Three years ago, I was elected by the people of the Ninth Judicial Circuit to lead the circuit and yes, to do things unconventionally to do things differently,” said Worrell.
DeSantis said he suspended Worrell for a dereliction of duty.
“Prosecutors do have a certain amount of discretion about which cases to bring and which not, but what this state attorney has done is abuse that discretion and is effectively nullified certain laws in the state of Florida,” the governor said.
Attorney General Ashley Moody weighed in at Wednesday’s press conference, citing public data that suggests Worrell had dismissed or did not prosecute criminal cases against 16,236 adult defendants from January 2021 through June 2022.
“While they are giving a false narrative that I have failed to prosecute, and I’ve led to people not being protected in this community, the statistics show that people are now more protected than ever under my leadership for the last three years,” Worrell said.
DeSantis gave examples of people who he said were not not held accountable under Worrell’s leadership, including a 17-year-old who allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend after he was released from custody.
“Worrell’s Office did not act on any of these charges until after he killed his girlfriend and their unborn child,” said DeSantis.
Professor of Law Jeffrey Swartz with The Cooley Law School said there are all kinds of reasons why a prosecutor would choose to use discretion.
“Just because somebody gets arrested doesn’t mean they get charged, and even though there may be probable cause the prosecutor may decide that there is not enough evidence to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Swartz.
Despite the suspension, Worrell plans to fight for her job back.
Worrell said Florida leads the nation in the numbers of people incarcerated and that the “lock them up, throw away” mentality does not work. She said her office has implemented a number of things that were proven effective, like restorative programs helping those that need a second chance.