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Analysis

Florida Governor Suspends Prosecutor Who Opposed Criminalizing Abortion & Gender-Affirming Care

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s unprecedented action against Tampa’s Andrew Warren thwarts the will of voters who want a more progressive approach to public safety.

August 5, 2022
State Attorney Andrew Warren
Associated Press

In a brazen move that reeks of anti­demo­cratic prin­ciples and extreme govern­ment over­reach, on Thursday Flor­ida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) suspen­ded State Attor­ney Andrew Warren (D) over a polit­ical disagree­ment regard­ing what laws Warren should be prosec­ut­ing.

The exec­ut­ive order to suspend Warren, Hills­bor­ough County’s elec­ted prosec­utor, cited “neglect of duty and incom­pet­ence.” The Flor­ida Consti­tu­tion allows the governor to suspend state offi­cials for reas­ons of malfeas­ance, neglect of duty, drunk­en­ness, incom­pet­ence, perman­ent inab­il­ity to perform offi­cial duties, or commis­sion of a felony.

DeSantis took issue with decisions that Warren, along with prosec­utors across the nation, have made to use their prosec­utorial discre­tion not to prosec­ute abor­tion cases as well as certain low-level conduct like pros­ti­tu­tion and disorderly intox­ic­a­tion. They have also prom­ised to not prosec­ute doctors who provide gender-affirm­ing health care.

What DeSantis has done sets a danger­ous and deeply disturb­ing preced­ent: He suspen­ded an elec­ted offi­cial for carry­ing out the reform plat­form that he ran on. If Tampa-area resid­ents disap­prove of Warren’s approach to crime and punish­ment, they can vote him out of office. But that is a call for the public to make — not the governor.

Chief prosec­utors use their discre­tion every day across the coun­try to ensure that their staff can give proper atten­tion to the huge volume of poten­tial cases for which their offices are respons­ible. Many have redir­ec­ted signi­fic­ant staff and invest­ig­at­ive resources to double down on cases involving viol­ent crime, instruct­ing staff to spend less time or move away entirely from prosec­ut­ing lower-level conduct that does­n’t affect public safety. No govern­ment agency has endless resources. There­fore, every effect­ive chief prosec­utor knows the import­ance of not wast­ing taxpayer dollars and direct­ing their staff toward seri­ous cases that implic­ate true public safety issues — espe­cially at a time of increases in some viol­ent crimes.

Millions of Amer­ic­ans support these prin­ciples. Over the last decade, voters have increas­ingly elec­ted chief prosec­utors who commit to redu­cing unne­ces­sary incar­cer­a­tion while enhan­cing community safety. Many of these prosec­utors have suppor­ted treat­ing incar­cer­a­tion as a last-resort sanc­tion, increas­ing diver­sion programs that provide off-ramps from jails and prison, and they have pledged not to prosec­ute people charged with specific low-level crimes.

Revers­ing course from decades of punit­ive prosec­u­tion and senten­cing policies is rational given the United States holds the title of the world’s number one incar­cer­ator. Today, 1.2 million people are serving sentences in state and federal pris­ons, and our county jails see over 10 million admis­sions every year. Four million more people are on proba­tion or parole. 

This level of incar­cer­a­tion has massive negat­ive economic and soci­etal consequences. It drives and rein­forces deep-seated racial inequity, dispro­por­tion­ately punish­ing Black and Latino people. It extracts wealth from communit­ies we’ve never inves­ted in by impos­ing crim­inal fees and fines on top of lost wages for those with crim­inal records. And it tears apart famil­ies and neigh­bor­hoods.

State Attor­ney Warren under­stood the devast­at­ing consequences that our nation’s system of punit­ive excess wrought on our communit­ies. To that end, he launched a convic­tion review unit to prevent, identify, and remedy wrong­ful convic­tions. His office worked to improve trans­par­ency around decision-making in his office. And he has cham­pioned mech­an­isms that allow judges to waive excess­ive fines and fees.

The Flor­ida governor’s action is a polit­ical stunt meant to punish a duly elec­ted offi­cial who recently pledged not to use sparse govern­ment resources to crim­in­al­ize abor­tion and signed a state­ment joined by over 70 other prosec­utors pledging not to prosec­ute doctors who provide gender-trans­ition treat­ments for chil­dren.

In announ­cing Warren’s suspen­sion, DeSantis said, “Our govern­ment is a govern­ment of laws, not a govern­ment of men.” The irony in this state­ment is clearly lost on DeSantis. By side­lin­ing a prosec­utor who was demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted to office by the members of his community, DeSantis toppled his govern­ment of laws and turned the state of Flor­ida into a govern­ment ruled by one man — himself.