Candidate name: Garrett Cornelius
Campaign mailing address, email & phone:
123 Lake Road Newport, VT 05855
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?
YES. State's Attorney's play the most crucial role in determining how many people are incarcerated or otherwise under some form of supervision.
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.
YES. But it is unrealistic to set goals based on specific percentages, for a variety of reasons. I truly believe that we incarcerate too many people, and if elected to the office of State's Attorney I will center my efforts on developing and employing a policy that aims to respond with the principles of restorative justice in every appropriate 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.
YES. I believe in criminal justice reform. If elected, I would not join in any lobbying efforts and would gladly speak out in support of legislation that aims to reduce incarceration rates and make our justice system better.
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.
YES. This is an issue that is very important to me. I believe that bail is too often imposed for the wrong reasons. To make matters worse, bail is often set at an amount that is not affordable. This is a real problem. So if elected, I will develop a policy requiring that a defendant be released on conditions in every appropriate case, and that a financial disclosure is sought in every case where a money bail is required. If a bail is imposed, it should be affordable. I strongly believe in the constitutional right to bail, and that nobody should be sitting in jail simply because they aren't rich enough to get out.
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.
YES. There are a variety of ways that we can improve plea bargain practices, but the most significant change I will make if elected is to only prosecute cases that are supported by evidence. This will ensure that every plea bargain is based on factual guilt.
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?
YES. Restorative justice is the law in Vermont. Everybody agrees that some offenders need to be brought to justice through our courts and incarcerated. But there are a variety of sentencing options that are proven effective and don't include incarceration. If elected, I will divert every appropriate case to our restorative justice programs. We need a meaningful justice system, and I believe that increased reliance on our restorative justice programs is a key component toward that goal.
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.
F.S.U. is what we have, and a prosecutor does not have the authority or funding to develop a supervision alternative. However, if elected, I would readily seek supervised community sentencing in every appropriate case. Under that sentencing structure, supervision of the offender would still be under F.S.U., but technical violations would be less common because jurisdiction remains with the Parole Board – not the Dept. of Corrections. This extra layer provides checks and balances to F.S.U., and also provides enhanced liberty and due process protections to the offender.
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?
YES. The data on this issue is indisputable, even here in Vermont. We need to do a far better job of ensuring that racial prejudice does not guide law enforcement and prosecutorial decisions. I don't believe that Orleans County is a hotbed of this problem, but if elected I will never base a decision to prosecute – or not prosecute – on a persons race.
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.
We need to do a much better job of collecting data related to prosecutions that occur in Vermont. The people should not have to rely on the newspapers alone to tell them what is going on in court. But I also believe the only way to collect meaningful data is through a mandatory statewide system. If elected, I would happily participate in such a system, and provide data in connection with every prosecution.
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.
This is a difficult question, because every case involves an array of unique factors. If elected, I will prosecute every case in Orleans County that is supported by evidence. If a case is brought by the police that is not supported by evidence, it will not be prosecuted. But if a charge is brought without evidence and there is evidence of racial prejudice, I would handle that as a very serious matter.
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?
YES. But I draw a sharp line between the addict and dealer. I have been very clear that if elected, I will develop and employ a zero tolerance policy with regard to trafficking and sales of heroin/fentanyl. For the addict, however, I do support a public health-centered approach. From a prosecutor's stand-point, the appropriate response in most possession cases would be to try and connect the defendant with addiction services. Often, diverting to a restorative justice program is the best and fastest way to connect these services. I don't believe anybody sees any value in using the resources of our criminal justice system to turn simple addicts into convicted criminals.
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.
NO. But I do believe the number of people that are incarcerated for addiction related offenses is quite high in Orleans County.
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.
YES. If elected, I will surely divert defendants with mental health issues, in every appropriate case, to a restorative justice program where they can quickly connect with essential services.
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.
NO. However, I believe that the majority of people currently in DOC custody are receiving 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.
This is a complicated subject. If elected, I will develop an online public portal for the public to easily report police misconduct. Currently, if the public has an issue with the police they have only one option, that is, to tell the police about it. The police should not be policing the police, and we need to do a much better job of regulating the police and holding them accountable for misconduct. There are a variety of ways that misconduct can be addressed, depending on the severity of the occurrence. As for officer-involved shootings, I cannot commit to assigning a special prosecutor. A special prosecutor would only be necessary if there were some sort of conflict. To my knowledge, there would not be any circumstance to merit my withdrawal from an officer-involved shooting or police misconduct case in Orleans County on conflict of interest grounds, but if it were so, I surely would.
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.
YES. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and civil forfeiture should always be stayed until the conviction is finalized. If elected, I would ensure forfeiture never occurred prior to adjudication of guilt, and would keep transparent and accurate records as to how the seized assets were spent or used. It is disturbing to know that these things aren't presently happening.
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.
Collateral consequences are largely not within the control of a prosecutor after a conviction has been obtained. But there are many ways that a prosecutor can minimize these consequences. Diverting to restorative justice programs, and employing a compassionate attitude towards petitions for expungement can go a long way. People need to work and carry on with their lives after they have completed their sentence. If elected, I would never use my authority to obstruct a persons efforts to better themselves after conviction of a crime.
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.
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.
YES, whenever appropriate.
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?
If elected, I am not going to have a political stand-off with immigration authorities. But I do not see any value in using the scarce resources of a county State's Attorney to fill the ethical gaps of law enforcement. Vermont's Fair and Impartial Policing Policy is a good thing, and I will adhere to its requirements wherever appropriate.