Ayala: If we really want public safety, we have to do what works
Orange-Oscela State Attorney Aramis Ayala spoke to reporters Thursday morning about her background and process in adjusting to her elected position as the region’s top prosecutor.
The event was hosted by the Central Florida chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Ayala has held a few press conferences since taking office in January but does not often speak publicly in the region.
“We’re in this whole era of criminal justice reform, the need for it in this country, definitely the need for it in Florida,” she said. “And while I didn’t use the words ‘criminal justice reform’ [during the campaign], if you listened to my platform from the time I said I was going to run in March of last year and until today, everything was about doing what is right.”
Ayala announced in March that she will not seek the death penalty for anyone. Gov. Rick Scott responded by taking a total of 29 first-degree murder cases away from her office, transferring them to State Attorney Brad King of Ocala. The legislature cut about $1.3 million from Ayala’s budget — bringing the funding to about what it was in Fiscal Year 2016.
“While we are functioning, it’s certainly putting strain because if we don’t get the money that we need, we may have to make adjustments to our human trafficking and our domestic violence divisions to make certain that out other divisions are well-balanced,” she said.
Ayala sued Scott, and the Florida Supreme Court eventually ruled in Scott’s favor. She then revised the policy, saying prosecutors in her office will be able to seek the death penalty where they find it appropriate and feasible.
“I made a decision, I believe it was the right thing, the court rejected it, I adjusted,” she said.
Ayala also spoke briefly about re-establishing a domestic violence unit within the state attorney’s office with about 25 prosecutors, victims’ advocates and paralegals focused only on domestic cases. She also said the office recently hired 20 attorneys fresh off passing their bar exams.
“I never intended on running for office,” she said. “It wasn’t a dream of mine. And quite frankly, I enjoy very intimate settings. I enjoy real connections between people, and being in a political role can remove that. That’s why my family, husband, my parents, my siblings, my closest friends, those people mean the most to me, because I still can maintain that level of intimacy.
“Quite frankly, when we do what we feel, it’s a true threat to public safety,” Ayala said. “If we really want public safety, we have to do what works, what reduces recidivism rates, because we don’t want people to continue to be back in the system. So a lot of my goals are just that.”