We are researchers in the areas of criminal justice and evidence-based practice, and faculty affiliated with Florida public universities. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to suspend Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren does not reflect what we know about the actual responsibilities of prosecutors and Warren’s performance as state attorney. The suspension is an attack on the law, as well as science, which Warren consistently follows. And we have the data to show it.
The governor noted “dereliction of duty” as the cause for the suspension, because Warren declared his intention to not prosecute certain cases involving abortion (at 15 weeks) and transgender health care provision. The governor apparently did not see footnote 2 of the pledge in question and the subsequent CNN interview in which Warren clarifies that the prosecutors in his office would use their discretion in determining the prosecution of a law concerning abortion — as they would in cases involving any other crime. If using prosecutorial discretion to determine which cases to prosecute is cause for suspension, the governor should get ready to suspend all 20 state attorneys in Florida.
Since prosecutors have no ability to prosecute all cases due to their large volume, they must prioritize the enforcement of cases with the greatest public safety implications. In fact, the American Bar Association clearly states: “The prosecutor serves the public interest and should act with integrity and balanced judgment to increase public safety both by pursuing appropriate criminal charges of appropriate severity, and by exercising discretion to not pursue criminal charges in appropriate circumstances.”
There is also ample evidence that Warren is not neglecting his duty as a law enforcement officer. He is vigorously prosecuting felony cases and the most impactful crimes that residents care about. Based on data provided by the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators’ project, the office filed 85% of felonies and misdemeanors brought to its attention, including more than 80% of felonies. This is actually quite high as compared to statewide or national trends, especially considering that the office dismissed only 9% of filed felonies — data that contradicts statements made by officials supporting Warren’s suspension.
Less than 13% of filed felonies are reduced to misdemeanors, suggesting that the office makes good efforts to dispose felonies as such. Based on the data from Measures for Justice, the office has a higher conviction rate — 74% — than most other Florida counties. For example, the conviction rate in Miami Dade is 58%. Pointing a finger at the state attorney for crime rates is also not supported by the data. Based on the Tampa Police data, Hillsborough’s crime rates held fairly steady, even during COVID-19.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Andrew Warren makes efforts toward data-driven policies and transparent engagement with researchers and community groups. He holds regular meetings with the community advisory board to address community concerns. In 2019, his office established the state’s first public-facing data dashboard, which provides data for key indicators of prosecutorial performance over time.
It is not common for prosecutors to engage with researchers and voluntarily subject themselves to external scrutiny. Yet, under Warren’s leadership, the office has partnered on multiple ground-breaking studies on prosecutorial efficiency, effectiveness and fairness. In 2019, researchers at Florida International University analyzed data that he provided from his office to examine racial disparities at all points of prosecutorial decision making.
Based on these facts, the work of Warren’s office is data-driven and community-informed, and we should celebrate prosecutors who do that.
Edelyn Verona is professor in the departments of psychology and criminology, and founder and co-director of the Center for Justice Research & Policy, at the University of South Florida. She is also the author of a forthcoming handbook on evidence-based criminal justice practices.
Besiki Luka Kutateladze is an associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida International University. He is also a co-manager of Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, a national research and technical assistance project focusing on prosecutorial reform.
Bryanna Fox is a former FBI special agent and associate professor of criminology researching prevention strategies for crime and violence. She is also co-director of the Center for Justice Research & Policy at the University of South Florida.
Marv Krohn is an emeritus professor at the University of Florida in the department of Sociology and Criminology & Law and co-editor of Justice Quarterly, and Fellow of the American Society of Criminology.