PLEASE NOTE: portions of this candidate's response are taken verbatim from a collective response coordinated and submitted by the Department of State’s Attorneys & Sheriffs on behalf of a group of current Vermont state's attorneys. Specifically, at least 13 of this candidate's 20 answers include language from the collective response submitted by the Department (questions 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 19, and 20).
Candidate name: Rose Kennedy
Campaign mailing address, email & phone:
Rose Kennedy for Rutland County
PO Box 751, Rutland, VT 05701
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, as appropriate to the crime and circumstances.
I look for the best outcome in a specific case and generally speaking, rehabilitation and societal reintegration are primary goals. I work with defense counsel, DOC, community justice programs, treatment providers and other social service organizations to connect offenders with services in the community so that, in most cases, incarceration is not even considered. I try, at arraignment to connect individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues with treatment. In situations of violent crimes, serious felonies and repeat offenders. the response must be appropriate to the individual’s past history, risk factors, and the actual harm that has been done to the victim(s) and the community. In those situations, I believe incarceration may be appropriate and I will argue for such a component of the sentence.
It is important to note that in all cases that result in a conviction, the judge, not the prosecutor, determines the final outcome, including acceptance of a plea, the final sentence and whether or not any jail time will be served.
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 and No.
Yes, the implementation of practices that reduce incarceration are already in place, such as directing most misdemeanor cases, and cases relating to addiction and mental health to appropriate community service, diversion and treatment programs. Examining and adopting other methods to reduce incarceration, following effective models, and adopting best practices will all be deployed in the goal of ensuring fair treatment for the defendant and justice for the victim and the community.
No, committing to a specific percentage of reduction is inconsistent with my obligation to consider each case on its individual merits and evaluate all outcomes with rehabilitation, treatment, deterrence and public safety in mind.
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.
Labeling something ‘reform legislation’ does not make it so. I will continue to speak out for and against legislation that I believe best serves my constituents.
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.
It is already current policy that no one is incarcerated solely on the basis of their inability to pay. If bail is imposed and a defendant can not post the money, defense counsel will file a motion to review the bail and a judge will decide whether the monetary bail is too high. In other words, there is a system in place to ensure that the monetary bail that is set is fair.
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.
No, my view is that every defendant and every case is different and should be evaluated on an individual basis. Again, there is a system in place to ensure that a defendant does not feel pressured into changing his/her/their plea and to ensure that a prosecutor does not ‘overcharge.’ This question inappropriately assumes that prosecutors overcharge and unfairly pressure defendants into pleas. As public servants, the state prosecutors are bound by ethical rules and guided by the interests of fairness and justice, as well as public safety. The question ignores the role of the Judiciary, the defense bar, and juries in the criminal justice process.
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, with appropriate means to ensure participation and compliance, and the safety of victims and community safety. I highly value restorative justice and try as much as possible to utilize that framework in plea agreements.
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.
The Field Supervision Unit is a program designed to allow people who would otherwise be incarcerated to live in the community. I believe it is appropriate that there be close supervision of these individuals, and I am not aware of inappropriate re-incarceration based on technical violations. In my experience, DOC handles re-incarceration in my County appropriately. Additionally, if an FSU violation does result in re-incarceration, my experience is that DOC works very closely with the offender to re-integrate them back into the community.
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?
No. Mine and my staff’s decision-making regarding charges, bail and appropriate sentences is free of racial bias and discriminatory motives.
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.
My county’s data system is dependent on the Department of State’s Attorney’s and Sheriffs. To the extent that the data system can reliably collect and report such data and be cross-matched with the appropriate partner agencies such as judiciary, defender general and law enforcement to guarantee it’s accuracy, I am happy to share such information.
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.
Yes. Racial – or other discriminatory profiling – is an abuse of power and illegal. In the past, if I uncovered such a bias, I have chosen not to prosecute any cases from the offending officer. There is no place in the criminal justice system for such a bias.
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?
Generally, it is most appropriate to direct persons involved in substance abuse and suffering from addiction issues, to treatment. Today, most individual possession charges are diverted either to Diversion/Tamarack or Drug Court so that an addict can get treatment.
Do you know how many people prosecuted in your county are currently incarcerated post-conviction for an offense in which addiction was the driving factor? Please give a clear “Yes” or “No” and any explanation.
No, as there is currently no system in place to collect such information, and individuals may elect to withhold this information from the public record, the court or their defense counsel.
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, provided the individual is engaged in services and the community can be protected.
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, as there is currently no system in place to collect such information, and individuals may elect to withhold this information from the public record, the court or their defense counsel. When I am aware of a mental health issue, I attempt to address that issue and connect the individual to treatment, when appropriate.
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.
No, unless the circumstances would clearly justify such an assignment. The independent reviews by the (affected county) State’s Attorney and Attorney General’s Office have been effective and fair. Furthermore, the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council has been granted broader authority in very recent years to decertify law enforcement officers who engage in improper actions, and the media has won cases for greater information disclosure and transparency. With these partners, and increased oversight, the system should work effectively to protect the public from abuses.
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. Vermont law already requires a conviction, and civil forfeiture is rarely utilized.
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.
Yes. Understanding that re-integration is key to reduce recidivism, I would support policies to mitigate collateral consequences, provided the community was protected.
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.
Yes. Consequences of this sort are already part of my consideration when I charge, seek bail or recommend a sentence. However, as mentioned above, I must also consider other factors such as community safety, harm to the victim, the need for treatment and deterrence.
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.
No, to formal guidelines, but yes, my staff is already aware of the potential adverse impact that a prosecution may have on non-citizens; again, we also must consider community safety, harm to the victim, the need for treatment and deterrence.
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?
My office operates in compliance with Section XI of the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council’s Fair and Impartial Policing Policy of December 2017 and in a manner consistent with any policy guidance provided by the Governor or Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs.