Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Leads in Most Felony Charges Dropped Against Minors

July 17, 2023 Criminal Defense, Juvenile Offenses

A recent report released by Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has caused additional backlash against the Orange and Osceola County’s State Attorney’s Office. The report highlights the percentage of juvenile cases which are not prosecuted or dropped. While juveniles are usually given more lenient consequences for crimes, the high percentage of juveniles who are not prosecuted for violent crimes has raised concerns across the Florida Legislature.

This page will provide details from the report, its responses, and how the State Attorney from the Ninth Judicial Circuit hopes to change the juvenile justice system.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s Report

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice released a report on the prosecution of serious juvenile offenses and youth accountability. The report stated its goal is to examine the importance of prosecution to help ensure deterrence through accountability.

The report examined the referrals, or arrests for a juvenile that included at least one felony, violent felony, or firearm felony that took place between November 1, 2021, and October 31, 2022. Each referral is documented to determine if the charges were non-filed. Non-filed means that no charges were formally filed or that the State Attorney’s Office decided to no longer pursue prosecuting the case.

Throughout all of Florida, the report indicated an average of 22% of felony cases that were dropped during the analysis period. The office with the highest number of dropped felony juvenile cases was the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which was led by Monique Worrell.

The following lists the average percentage of felony charges dropped against minors from Worrell’s State Attorney Office in comparison to those in Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville:

  • Orange/Osceola (Worrell’s Office) – 42% of felony charges dropped;
  • Miami – 33% of felony charges dropped;
  • Tampa – 29% of felony charges dropped; and
  • Jacksonville – 16% of felony charges dropped.

In addition, Worrell’s office leads in the highest percentage of dropped juvenile cases involving violent felonies and gun charges:

The report points to a 2012 study that found that the perceived certainty of sanctions serves as a deterrent effect from subsequent offending. Further, repercussions for law breaking are a principal factor for future offending. The National Institute of Justice summarized that the knowledge of the certainty of being caught and punished is more important to deter crime than the actual punishment itself.

The following is a statement from the report:

“Non-prosecution of serious offenses fails to deter future offending, and importantly, also deprives youth of the opportunity to receive the research-supported delinquency interventions that have been successful in helping drive down Florida’s juvenile offending rate. Although as noted, there are situations in which non-prosecution of serious offenses may be appropriate, the interests of both communities and troubled youth are best served by providing youth who commit serious offenses both accountability and access to research-informed delinquency interventions.”

You can view the entire report here.

Responses to the Report

In response to the report and the backlash accrued by Worrell, her spokesperson Jason Gunn gave the following statement:

“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.”

Worrell has remained adamant that her prosecutors will not continue to go forward with any case which they cannot prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Continuous Criticism of Worrell’s Circuit

The report is just the latest in the forms of criticism against Worrell. She was accused of not properly prosecuting cases back in February, in the case of Keith Moses who killed three people and injured two others during a shooting spree in Pine Hills.

Moses spent years going in and out of juvenile detention facilities. Although the only case of Moses’ during Worrell’s time serving as State Attorney was a misdemeanor offense for possession of marijuana. At the time, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office failed to test for DNA on a firearm that Moses allegedly discarded.

After Moses was arrested for the February shooting, Gov. Ron DeSantis launched an official inquiry into Worrell’s office, requesting records of cases for repeat offenders.

Most recently, Worrell expressed that Orlando Police Department (OPD) failed to provide help in locating the victim of a carjacking. Without finding the victim, Worrell explained that the prosecutors could not formally press charges against the subject. The subject was released from the carjacking case but then arrested again a week later for an attempted rape. OPD Chief Eric Smith claimed the arresting officer in the carjacking case provided all available information about the victim, who was considered homeless. Smith also claimed Worrell’s office did not request the officer’s help in finding the carjacking victim.

Worrell’s Proposal for Florida Legislature

Despite the recent criticism, Worrell has been attempting to make changes with Florida Legislature. She has proposed changes including allowing juvenile courts to retain jurisdiction over defendants until they’ve reached 21-years-old. Additionally, allowing the department to keep minors in custody for longer periods after committing serious offenses.

A recent legislative action request by Worrell in March stated the following:

“Currently, the juvenile justice system woefully fails to address serious offenses committed by youthful offenders. The State Attorney is currently only able to resolve violent juvenile cases by charging them as adults, or relinquishing jurisdiction to the Department of Juvenile Justice, which typically requires a short-term treatment program that does not provide long-term solutions.

No current State programs remove juveniles from problematic environments long enough for the juvenile to experience changed behavior or attitudes. The State Attorney would like more options for addressing juveniles who commit serious offenses that would both rehabilitate the juvenile and protect the public.”

None of the requests by Worrell have yet to make changes in the juvenile justice system. We will remain up to date with any changes.

Contact a Juvenile Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

The criminal justice system takes juvenile cases seriously in Florida. Although minors typically receive lesser forms of punishment than those who are considered adults, the penalties for certain juvenile convictions can still be extremely harsh. Penalties include getting sentenced to a juvenile detention center, paying fines, completing diversion programs, or the possibility of getting sentenced to adult prison in more severe cases. In addition to the criminal penalties, a juvenile convicted of a crime can lose scholarships, get suspended or expelled from school, or lose their admission to college.

If you are a minor who was recently arrested, or the parent of a minor who is facing criminal penalties, it is of the utmost importance that you speak with a defense attorney. An attorney experienced in juvenile cases can help clear your child’s name and earn back their freedom. Don’t let one mistake prevent your minor from fulfilling their future dreams—contact Pumphrey Law Firm  and let our skilled attorneys represent your case. Contact us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message.

Written by Karissa Key

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