When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he had suspended Monique Worrell, State Attorney in Orange and Osceola County, his reasons included the low number of prosecutions in her circuit.
DeSantis went on to list examples of defendants who went on to commit more serious crimes after not getting prosecuted. As a result, the governor said, Worrell’s lack of action against offenders left him with no choice but to remove her from the position.
“We had a duty to act to protect the public from this dereliction of duty,” the governor said about the suspension, which marks his second suspension of an elected State Attorney.
Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody added to the governor’s case against Worrell, who is a Democrat and the state’s second black State Attorney to serve in the position.
“Ms. Worrell failed to do the job for which she was elected,” Moody said before stating a series of statistics that show since Worrell took over the ninth circuit in 2021, her office has either dismissed or dropped more criminal cases than any other current State Attorney in Florida.
Among cases dropped or dismissed included defendants arrested over violent felonies.
State data shows between July 1, 2021, through January 2023, over 61% of violent felonies were dropped or dismissed in the ninth district, which is above the state’s average of 42%.
Same for juvenile cases, where according to a state report released by Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice earlier this year, Worrell’s district had, by far, the highest number (of felony juvenile cases that were dropped or not filed at all.
Before she was elected as State Attorney of the ninth district in 2020, Worrell campaigned on a promise that included reducing the number of people imprisoned.
“Ms. Worrell has made justice in the ninth circuit almost an arbitrary coin flip,” Moody said during the governor’s Tallahassee press conference.
But is using prosecution rates an accurate measure of prosecutor performance?
“Comparing the rates at which cases are dismissed or charged from one circuit to another circuit is a crude measure,” explained David Alan Sklansky, a criminal law professor at Stanford University. “It's a measure of policy. It certainly isn't an indication that she's not doing her job because the job of a prosecutor includes deciding whether to file charges.”
Sklansky also explained how measuring the performance of a state attorney isn’t determined by a few stats but by a wide range of factors that include conviction and acquittal rates, plea deals, and racial disparities among defendants charged.
“I think that the numbers that the Governor's office put together are relevant in assessing the job that the state's attorney is doing. But I think what they seem to show here is that this prosecutor is following through on her campaign promises,” Sklansky said.
Following her suspension, Worrell, whose failure to prosecute cases has also been criticized by some law enforcement leaders in Central Florida, was quick to defend her track record and mission.
“Florida leads the nation in the numbers of people incarcerated but yet crime still happens. So the lock them up and throw away mentality cannot be the thing that works,” she said shortly after her suspension, which she vows to fight.
Worrell believes she’s the last victim to a politically-driven governor who maintains removing her was a matter of protecting the public.