Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Other candidates have stated their opposition to all mandatory minimum sentences, but my position is more nuanced. I agree that mandatory minimum sentences can result in excessive punishment for drug offenses involving first offenders, the young, or individuals with limited criminal histories. In fact, the legislature has already addressed these issues; decreasing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and substantially reducing the application of mandatory minimum school zone violations. To that end, if elected, I intend to focus on rehabilitating drug users and first offenders and providing them with an opportunity to re-enter society with the necessary tools to become productive citizens. Further, in all types of cases – as I have done throughout my career as a prosecutor – there should be an individual assessment of the merits, the people involved, and any mitigating circumstances, such as mental health and substance abuse issues. My administration would consider the people involved in cases, not just what is in black and white.
In more serious cases, however, mandatory minimum sentences send a message that certain conduct will not be tolerated; they provide prosecutors with leverage over violent and repeat offenders, which can result in longer sentences for dangerous individuals.
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As district attorney, I intend to enforce mandatory minimum sentences in most cases involving illegal guns. We must send a clear and unequivocal message that illegal guns will not be tolerated, especially in cities like Springfield and Holyoke. Both communities are facing an epidemic of shootings and other gun violence involving illegal weapons in the hands of unlicensed individuals. The citizens of Hampden County deserve a district attorney who will do everything in his or her power to stop gun violence. We must be clear and consistent with our message: If you carry a firearm without a license, you will go to jail.
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There is a point in an offender’s criminal history when the focus of the district attorney must switch from rehabilitation to keeping that dangerous individual off the streets. As district attorney, I will strategically utilize mandatory minimum sentences for individuals with lengthy criminal histories who commit violent offenses. The district attorney’s office must perform its fundamental function to protect the public.
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Domestic violence tears apart families who serve as the very fabric of our society. As such, the district attorney’s office must effectively investigate and prosecute domestic violence cases. Although domestic violence can be among the most complicated cases, by working collaboratively with local police departments, probation officers and community agencies, as well as victim advocates, my administration would stabilize these turbulent situations. The district attorney’s office would use all of its resources and partnerships to effectively intercede in these often highly emotional and dangerous situations to create safety for the victims. My administration would ensure that when credible threats and violence are involved, further violence is prevented by the pre-trial detention of the offender and/or the relocation of the victim to a safe place.
Given the family dynamics at play in a domestic violence case, it can be difficult for victims to come forward and cooperate in prosecutions. It is imperative that we provide victims a safe haven and the means and security to aid in the prosecution of the abuser. This, in turn, allows victims to move on with their lives, free from abuse.
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Community Impact Team
One of my priorities as district attorney will be to increase the dialogue with communities affected by crime. I have had the privilege of serving as District Attorney Mark Mastroianni’s liaison to the Forest Park neighborhood in Springfield. I would like to expand on this practice and create a Community Impact Team, in which prosecutors periodically hold public meetings in interested communities. At these meetings, concerned residents can have direct access to members of my office. This way community concerns can be expressed and plans to address them can be discussed.
Prosecutors would use information gained from these Community Impact Team meetings to tailor investigations and prosecutions to have a positive impact on the quality of life for the residents of Hampden County. In court, the prosecution is referred to as “the Commonwealth” because we represent the people of Massachusetts. These Community Impact Team meetings will allow the people’s voice to be heard in court.
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Adult Diversion Proposal
I understand that substance abuse is a public health problem. From both a humanitarian perspective and a fiscal perspective, I believe that the district attorney’s office should address the root causes of crime, which very often involve substance abuse. Accordingly, as an alternative to traditional prosecution, my administration will offer criminal case diversion to non-violent offenders who are suffering with addiction. The program would divert these select individuals into programs before they are arraigned in court, protecting them from having a criminal record, provided the program in which they are enrolled is successfully completed.
I will commit resources to ensure that the drug treatment programs are educationally relevant, structured, accountable, and available to offenders. I will partner with service providers like the Salvation Army, the Sheriff’s Department, and local treatment facilities to provide effective diversion programs.
A diversion program can provide important education, mental health counseling, and the intensive treatment necessary to end addiction. These efforts can be fiscally prudent because they prevent repeat offenses. Indeed, the goal is to address the root causes of criminal behavior and encourage a future of sobriety that is productive and free of crime.
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Elder and Disabled Abuse
The district attorney’s office has the important duty to protect the vulnerable members of our society. Therefore, crimes committed against the elderly and disabled must be vigorously prosecuted. However, the district attorney’s office can work to prevent crime and protect the elderly and disabled before crimes happen. As district attorney, I will appoint a team of prosecutors and advocates to focus on the education, investigation and prosecution of crimes against the elderly and disabled. This special unit will:
- Prevent and prosecute financial exploitation and emotional or physical neglect and abuse of the elderly and disabled.
- Coordinate with police departments and partner with service providers to foster effective communication.
- Have expertise in the special laws and enhanced penalties applicable to crimes against the elderly and disabled.
- Provide the elderly and disabled with a point of contact in the district attorney’s office to ensure their concerns and issues are addressed promptly and competently.
Under my administration, the district attorney’s office will work vigilantly on behalf of the elderly and disabled to keep them safe.
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Veterans Trial Court
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs in as many as 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Unemployment among veterans who have served since 2001 is substantially higher than for non-veterans. In addition, nearly a fifth of the homeless population in the United States are veterans. Most unfortunate of all, veterans make up 20 percent of all suicides. These mental health issues, coupled with the difficulty of reintegration into civilian life, can lead to substance abuse and criminal behavior. It is at this juncture in veterans’ lives when we in law enforcement must translate our respect and honor into action.
Accordingly, I propose that the criminal justice system in Hampden County develop a system to provide veterans who become court-involved the specialized support that they need and deserve. With 2.5 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars nationwide – and thousands more returning home this year – there is an urgent need for a veterans’ treatment court here in Hampden County. While justice is the overall mission of the District Attorney, compassion must also play a role.
As District Attorney, I would partner with the Soldier On program, the Trial Court, and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department to establish this specialized veterans’ treatment court. There, representatives of the court will have the ability to identify veterans who might benefit from focused court attention, mentoring and peer support, as well as alternatives to traditional sentencing – if appropriate – given the unique issues presented by each case. By crafting calculated dispositions for certain cases, we can provide veterans with the necessary treatment and programming to promote rehabilitation and assist them in leading healthy and productive lives.
With a specialized court, the system can ensure that justice is dispensed with fairness, but also with compassion and consideration for the unique contributions that veterans make, and the unique problems that often accompany those contributions. Where possible, it is incumbent upon the District Attorney and the justice system as a whole to make earnest efforts toward saving the lives of those who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us.
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