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Judge Rules Florida Lacks Authority in Voter Fraud Case

The newly established election crimes office doesn’t have the authority to charge the defendant, according to an Orange County judge, who dismissed the case. But a passed bill may change that legal precedent.

(TNS) — An Orange County, Fla., judge Monday dismissed a voter fraud case brought by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new election crimes office, finding statewide prosecutors lacked the authority to charge the Orlando defendant.

“If the legislature wants a centralized prosecutor with the power to pursue any perceived illegality throughout the state of Florida, the Florida legislature has the authority to create a centralized system,” Orange County Circuit Judge Jenifer Harris wrote in her ruling. “This court will not facilitate such a concentrated power without legislative authority.”

Last week, however, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that will give prosecutors statewide jurisdiction in these cases, nixing the current standard that led Harris to dismiss the case against 59-year-old Peter Washington.

The bill was sent to the governor’s office on Friday and is effective once signed into law, according to the Florida Senate website.

It is unclear if Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office plans to re-submit the case against Washington after the law takes effect. “It is our position that we currently have jurisdiction, and we will be reviewing our options,” Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox wrote in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel.

Monday’s decision comes almost two weeks after Washington and his attorney filed a motion for dismissal, claiming it was illegal that the case was headed by the Office of Statewide Prosecution — which, until the recently passed bill is implemented, can only charge defendants accused of crimes committed in two or more judicial circuits.

Washington, who was convicted of attempted sexual battery in 1996, was sent a voter card from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections before he and his wife voted early in the 2020 election.

After his arrest, Washington told investigators that he was surprised he was being arrested for voter fraud and he didn’t think it was illegal. He said he showed his photo ID and voter card to poll workers the day he cast a ballot and was not turned away.

Washington was one of 20 people across the state charged with illegally casting a ballot in the 2020 election despite clearance to do so by state officials.

Two other defendants are Orange County residents.

His case was dismissed on similar grounds as Robert Wood, a Miami man whose case was thrown out when a judge ruled that the Office of Statewide Prosecution did not have the authority to charge him.

Last week, the trial of Nathan Hart, a Tampa man who was the first arrestee in the sweep of voter fraud cases, ended in a split verdict.

©2023 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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