I had a front row-seat to the recent district attorney candidate forum. As with most forums, the questions were decent, however, being limited to three-minute sound bites restricts the ability to explore vital issues.
I’m not expecting a re-creation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but more in-depth answers could dig deeper into the issues and solutions facing our county. Additionally, having just a handful of select questions limits our ability to understand the multiple facets of our justice system and the role the district attorney plays in them, some which are literally life-and-death matters.
The District Attorney’s Office advocates on behalf of the victim of crime. In theory, it should be championing the ability for the victim to receive restitution in cases of monetary and property crimes and ensuring that violent criminals are unable to repeat physical violence, either by rehabilitation or segregation from society. In addition to prosecuting the accused perpetrator(s), it also provides resources to the victims, who undoubtedly are going through a dark period in their lives.
Within these underlying assumptions, I found myself pondering other questions:
Plea bargains boost conviction rates while not having to go to trial, which free up resources that can be focused on other cases. This theoretically saves taxpayers precious dollars. What percentage of convictions in our county are a result of plea bargains? What assurance do we the people have that plea bargains aren’t being offered for the sake of inflating conviction statistics and in fact provide justice to the victim? Furthermore, are plea bargains offered with the permission of the victim?
What is the policy concerning victimless crimes (i.e. drug possession, prostitution)? If there isn’t an actual citizen claiming they were wronged by an activity and the “violation” is just a policy violation, is it the best use of taxpayer resources to prosecute those cases?
For lower level crimes, is prison the best option, in light of the high cost per inmate and high recidivism rate? Would medical, counseling and other diversion programs be a better use of resources, and provide better results for the community? Which criteria would you use in determining that?
Jury nullification is a rarely known tool that juries have at their disposal when deliberating a case. If the jury feels the law is unjust, they have the ability to acquit the defendant. What are your thoughts on our juries having that option?
The grand jury is one of the unheralded tools the people have to monitor and correct waste and corruption in our government. What is your understanding of the grand jury system? What can the district attorney do to motivate and empower the members of our grand jury to investigate and explore goings on in all levels of our local government?
What are your views of civil asset forfeiture laws? Last year, there was an instance where a citizen was arrested for a perceived crime and had some assets seized under civil asset forfeiture laws. Charges were eventually dropped, but the citizen’s assets were still kept. Is this justice, and what role can the District Attorney Office perform to make this right?
When filing a lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of our county and collecting penalties in successful cases, how do we ensure that restitution is remitted to the people who were supposedly victimized, instead of being absorbed into a departmental budget, or redirected to an unrelated project?
Far too often, elections are glorified popularity contests. We the people should view them as hiring decisions.
This year, we have several vital four-year employment contracts up for grabs. The challenges associated with these roles are often unplanned and require the right blend of creativity and experience to achieve success. Candidates for any office are basically “interviewing” a job. Are they being asked the right questions?
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at email@example.com.