Candidate name: Elizabeth “Betsy” Anderson
Campaign mailing address, email & phone:
P.O. Box 182, Stowe, Vermont 05672
CRIMINAL JUSTICE PERSPECTIVE AND PRIORITIES
1. Do you believe that Vermont should reduce its current incarceration rate? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and describe what role, if any, State’s Attorneys play in determining how many people are incarcerated or under some form of criminal justice supervision in this state?
Vermont’s incarceration rate should be no higher than is necessary to protect law-abiding Vermonters from individuals who pose a threat to life and property. The role of the State’s Attorney and the criminal justice system is to ensure that those who violate the law are held accountable for their actions and become productive members of society.
2. If elected, would you commit to implementing policies and practices that will reduce your county’s incarcerated population by a specific percentage by the end of your term? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation. If “Yes,” please identify your goal and what specific combination of reforms you anticipate will achieve this goal.
This question is premised on the assumption that Lamoille County’s incarcerated population is too high and that it can be easily corrected by picking some arbitrary incarceration rate deemed acceptable. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Incarceration rates will largely depend on the types of crimes committed, the manner in which they are committed, the criminal record of the individual committing the crime, and the judge imposing the sentence. Nonetheless, the State’s Attorney should use all tools available, including incarceration and non-incarceration alternatives, to reach a just result in each case.
3. In past legislative sessions, Vermont’s Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs has opposed criminal justice reform measures in the legislature while supporting tougher criminal penalties. Will you commit to speaking out in support of legislation to reduce incarceration, even if it means taking positions that are counter to the Department’s? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
Even accepting that this question’s assertions regarding the positions taken by the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs are accurate, any position I may take as State’s Attorney for Lamoille County on pending legislation will be based on thorough research and review of the proposed legislation, and whether it is in the best interests of the citizens of Lamoille County. Whether it is supported or opposed by the Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs is not dispositive.
FAIRNESS IN CHARGING, BAIL, PLEAS, AND SENTENCING
4. Do you support a policy to reduce the use of money bail as a condition of pretrial release to ensure that no one is incarcerated solely on the basis of their inability to pay? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
The Vermont Constitution provides that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be exacted for bailable offenses.” Therefore, no one should be incarcerated solely on the basis of his/her ability to pay. However, there are many factors a court must consider in setting bail conditions sufficient to ensure the defendant’s appearance at future court appearances. In some instances, money bail may be appropriate and necessary.
5. Would you commit to developing and implementing written guidelines for charging and plea bargain practices to ensure prosecutors do not overcharge or unfairly pressure defendants into pleas? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
Prosecution guidelines are important to ensure similarly situated defendants are treated similarly. I fully anticipate developing such guidelines if elected.
6. Do you support increasing reliance on Vermont’s restorative justice system? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation and if you answer yes, please say what would you do to increase participation in that system for the benefit of victims and survivors as well as offenders.
Lamoille County is fortunate to have one of, if not, the leading restorative justice programs in the state. I fully support the work of and look forward to partnering with the Lamoille Restorative Center to expand the participation of the community, victims and survivors in the restorative justice system.
7. In assessing sentencing options, would you consider alternatives to the Field Supervision Unit (F.S.U.) form of post-release supervision that do more to reduce re-incarceration rates for technical violations? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
As State’s Attorney, I would look at each case individually and consider all alternatives that may result in a just outcome.
ADDRESSING RACISM IN VERMONT’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
8. Do you believe prosecutorial practices contribute to racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal justice system, including disparities in charging decisions, bail recommendations, diversionary program placements, and plea bargains? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation, and if you answer yes, what if anything would you do to address those disparities?
This is a complex issue, as the term racial disparity refers to a difference that may or may not be related to discrimination. However, as State’s Attorney, I will undertake a reasonable historical review of cases prosecuted by the office to determine if minority defendants are treated disparately at the prosecution stage. I will also work with county law enforcement and other participants in the criminal justice system to address any racial disparity issues that may exist.
9. Will you commit to collecting and making publicly available relevant data and statistical information on bail and charging decisions, pleas, convictions, and placements in diversion programs, while accounting for race, gender, disability, and other characteristics? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation or other measures you would implement to promote transparency in your office.
As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." Transparency is the cornerstone of good government. As State’s Attorney, there will a presumption of disclosure of all actions taken by the office.
10. Would you decline to file charges where evidence indicates that a police officer engaged in racial profiling or other racial bias? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
Racial profiling and actions taken based on a person’s race, gender, national origin or other protected class are an anathema to the principal that “justice is blind.’ It is illegal and morally wrong for any police officer or participant in the criminal justice system to engage in such conduct and it would a pose a significant impediment to any prosecution absent independent supporting evidence.
PUBLIC HEALTH APPROACHES TO ADDICTION
11. Do you support a public health-centered approach to substance use and addiction that emphasizes decriminalization and harm reduction, increases access to treatment, and does not involve prosecution for drug possession? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation, and if you answer yes, what specific strategies would you support, both inside and outside the criminal justice system, to implement that approach?
Vermont is fortunate in that individuals suffering from a substance abuse disorder have ready access to treatment. The criminal justice system should not be the default for drug treatment. Whether prosecution is warranted is a fact-specific determination, which must be determined on case-by-case basis. To the extent the question seeks a commitment not to prosecute individuals who violate Vermont’s drug laws, no responsible prosecutor can provide such a commitment and comply with his or her oath of office.
12. Do you know how many people prosecuted in your county are currently incarcerated postconviction for an offense in which addiction was the driving factor? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
It is not clear what “driving factor” as used in the question means. Regardless, I am not aware of this data being publically available. Undoubtedly, the residents of Lamoille County, like the residents of many other counties, are victimized by individuals who commit crimes in order to support their drug addiction.
TREATMENT FOR PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
13. Would you commit to enacting policies to divert defendants with mental health issues away from the criminal justice system and into treatment and support services in the community? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
I fully support programs and initiatives that keep individuals with mental health issues from becoming entangled in the criminal justice system when practicable and consistent with community safety. Courts and Corrections should not be the default for mental health treatment.
14. Do you know how many people prosecuted in your county and currently in DOC custody have a mental health issue, including but not limited to a serious mental illness or other mental health condition? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
Are these statistics even available? According to a 2006 report by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics more than half of inmates in state prison had a mental health problem, that is, a recent history or symptoms of a mental health problem. A 2014 Vermont Department of Corrections report states that 44% of the male inmate population regularly received mental health services. For females, 70% received mental health services.
HOLDING LAW ENFORCEMENT ACCOUNTABLE
15. Would you commit to assigning special prosecutors authorized to investigate and prosecute officer-involved shootings and other use-of-force cases, and cases of police misconduct? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
There is no provision in Vermont law for the assigning or funding of a “special prosecutor” by a State’s Attorney. See 24 V.S.A. §§ 361 et seq. Officer involved shootings are currently thoroughly investigated and reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office and the local State’s Attorney for a determination of whether the shooting was justified or whether criminal charges should be filed. State’s Attorneys are fully competent and capable of conducting such reviews, as is the Attorney General. In addition, with respect to the Vermont State Police, Vermont law requires the Department of Public Safety Internal Affairs Office, which reports directly to the Commissioner of Public Safety, to refer all investigations of misconduct involving a violation of a criminal statute to applicable State’s Attorney, the Attorney General and the Governor. In addition, as of July 1, 2018, all law enforcement agencies will be required to adopt an internal affairs program in order to manage complaints regarding the agency's law enforcement officers. 20 V.S.A. § 2402. The law also requires that any allegation of misconduct alleging a violation of law must be referred to the Attorney General and the appropriate State’s Attorney. 20 V.S.A. § 2403(b). While a special prosecutor may be warranted in extraordinary and rare circumstances, the question implies it should be a routine and automatic occurrence. It should not be.
16. Do you support a policy requiring a criminal conviction before forfeiting property, including for third parties’, and regular reporting on all civil assets seized by law enforcement, including how seized assets were spent or used? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
Criminals, particularly drug traffickers, human traffickers, and fraudsters, should not be allowed to retain the fruits of their ill-gotten gains – gains often obtained by exploiting the addicted, vulnerable women, the elderly and the infirm. Forfeiture laws play an important role in ensuring criminals are divested of the proceeds and profits of their illegal activity. Utilized properly and with the due process rights of innocent third parties protected, forfeiture laws, both civil and criminal, are an effective tool to combat illegal activity.
As stated above, transparency is the cornerstone of good government and the manner in which forfeited assets are disposed of should be public information.
MINIMIZING COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES OF INCARCERATION
17. People with a criminal conviction can face long-term barriers to housing and employment among other collateral consequences as a result of having a criminal record. Would you commit to implementing policies to mitigate collateral consequences? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder said, “people who have paid their debt to society [ought to be] able to live and work productively.” I fully agree. Vermont has statutes that allow for the expungement of criminal records. As State’s Attorney, I intend to support expungement petitions that meet the statutory requirements. However, criminal record checks used appropriately give employers, including day care operators and schools, a tool that assists them to assess risk to our children, their employees, customers and assets when making hiring decisions.
18. Would you commit to requiring prosecutors to consider the potential collateral consequences to children and families in making prosecutorial decisions—especially the decision to seek a prison sentence for a parent or a minor—and to use their discretion to avoid adverse consequences for children and families whenever appropriate? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
When an individual commits a crime he/she not only victimized the individual or individual who are the target his/her crime, this individual also victimizes his/her family, including any children. While extraordinary family circumstances may influence a court’s sentence or a prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation, these decisions are fact and case specific.
19. Would you commit to implementing guidelines for prosecutors to consider immigration related consequences of prosecutorial decisions and to use their discretion to avoid adverse immigration-related consequences for noncitizens whenever appropriate? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
This question makes no distinction between alien defendants legally in the United States and alien defendants who entered the United States illegally or are otherwise undocumented. Immigration is a federal responsibility and all defendants are advised of potential immigration consequences, including deportation, at any change of plea. It is therefore not clear what “guidelines” could be implemented that would avoid immigration consequence for noncitizen defendants. To the extent the question suggests that individuals illegally in the United State who commit crimes and victimize Vermonters should not face immigration consequences for their conduct, I would not support such an outcome.
20. Vermont's Fair and Impartial Policing Policy prevents law enforcement agencies from contacting federal immigration authorities except in limited circumstances, though under statute these policies do not extend to the State’s Attorneys’ offices. Will you commit to limiting communication between your office and federal immigration authorities to instances where your office is presented with a criminal warrant or subpoena?
Enforcement of immigration law is a federal responsibility and as State’s Attorney I do not intend to engage in immigration enforcement. Vermont residents are more likely to engage with law enforcement and prosecutors (including acting as witnesses) if they can be assured they will not be singled out for scrutiny on the basis of immigration status. I will concurrently recognize my obligation to also fully comply with any applicable federal laws.