The #VoteSmartJusticeDE Campaign is organized by a coalition of organizations and individuals who advocate for a criminal justice system that fosters public safety by reducing mass incarceration, recidivism and racial disparities. Those organizations include the ACLU of Delaware, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Coalition to Dismantle the New Jim Crow, Delaware Center for Justice, Delaware United, H.E.A.D.S. U.P. in the 302, Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, and Network Delaware.
The campaign plans to use public education, community organizing and grass roots advocacy to challenge a criminal justice system that has for too long a culture of maximum punishment that is based upon the identity of the suspect or defendant. To wit: African Americans are 22 percent of the population in Delaware, but they are 51 percent of prisoners. This is the direct result of the combining a “tough on crime approach,” mass incarceration, and racial bias. You can read their full platform here.
As part of this campaign, they sent questionnaires to the four Democratic Attorney General candidates. I am sure they would have sent one to a Republican Attorney General candidate, but there is no Republican Attorney General candidate. I have read through the candidates answers, and will highlight some of the most important questions here, so you can spot the differences between the candidates. The full answers to the questionnaires by each candidate are listed below:
MANDATORY MINUMUMS–Will you pledge that you will advocate for the elimination of all mandatory minimum sentences? Please give a yes or no answer, and any explanation you believe is necessary. If there are any mandatory minimums you support, please identify them specifically.
LAKRESHA ROBERTS: Did not provide a yes or no answer. I am in favor of revising minimum-mandatory sentencing requirements. I fully support HB 307 which removes all minimum-mandatory sentencing requirements for juveniles adjudicated delinquent in Family Court. This bill allows Family Court judges to exercise more discretion in the sentences they issue in delinquency cases. I also believe that adult sentencing schemes should be thoroughly reviewed to determine under what circumstances judges should have greater discretion in imposing sentences.
KATHY JENNINGS: Did not provide a yes or no answer. I support a reduction in minimum mandatory sentences when it is in the interest of public safety and furthers the rehabilitation of the defendant. I fully support increased judicial discretion by permitting sentences in more crimes to run concurrently and by amending and simplifying the criminal code.
TIM MULLANEY: Yes ☐ No☒ In some cases, mandatory minimum sentencing is appropriate, particularly in the instance of violent offenses. That said, to the extent the statutes do not provide sufficient judicial discretion to alter or change a sentence that would be patently unfair or unjust, I am open to working with state legislators to ensure that appropriate safe guards are reflected in the statutes. Mandatory sentences were first introduced to ensure consistency across the state for similarly situated defendants. These should be reserved for serious offenses.
CHRIS JOHNSON: Yes ☒ No☐ All mandatory minimums should be off the table so that judges have more discretion and can sentence in a case-by-case manner. Only the most serious and dangerous offenders should receive the harshest sentences; prosecutors should prioritize rehabilitation with all others–even if that means no sentence time in cases that currently fall under a mandatory minimum. I will seek to eliminate sentences for low-level offenses better dealt with by probation or diversionary programs.
JUVENILE JUSTICE – Under what circumstances, if any, do you believe people under 18 should be prosecuted as adults? Will you pledge to support changes in the law consistent with your answer?
KATHY JENNINGS: There are certain individuals under the age of 18 who should be tried as adults. Such decisions need to be carefully reviewed, taking into account many critical factors, including the seriousness of the crimes, especially those crimes where members of the public are seriously victimized, the actual age of the juvenile charged with committing the crime, his/her mental capacity, and social history.
CHRIS JOHNSON: I absolutely pledge to support changes that would ensure that no person under 18 would be prosecuted as an adult.
LAKRESHA ROBERTS: As Attorney General, I will commit to evaluating best practices as they relate to consideration of a juvenile’s age and whether they should be prosecuted as an adult or juvenile. I will advocate for any necessary changes to be made. Furthermore, I support the use of amenability hearings to allow judges to exercise discretion in determining the appropriate venue for juvenile cases.
TIM MULLANEY: I believe this is a case-by-case review. This will be driven by the nature and severity of the crime. An example where a juvenile might be tried as an adult would be a violent crime perpetuated by a youth 16 or older against a vulnerable victim. You have to take the criminal history into account as well, especially when a juvenile is very close to the age of maturity and the crime at issues involves a violent offense.
DEATH PENALTY – Will you pledge to oppose efforts to bring back the death penalty in Delaware, and to instruct prosecutors not to seek the death penalty if it is reinstated? Please give a yes or no answer, and any explanation you believe is necessary.
CHRIS JOHNSON: Yes ☒ No☐ Under my leadership, the state will never seek the death penalty regardless of any legislation that may arise which would attempt to reinstate it. It poses a high cost to the state, has never been shown to be an effective deterrent to crime, and disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities.
TIM MULLANEY: Yes ☐ No☒ The Department of Justice follows the laws that are written. If the Death Penalty was reinstated, I would follow the law. I believe there are appropriate times a Death Penalty should be considered, such as premeditated killing of a first responder or a correctional officer during the course of his duties with the Department of Corrections.
LAKRESHA ROBERTS: Did not provide a yes or no answer. I am against the death penalty as I believe it is morally reprehensible and fiscally Irresponsible. The data is clear that it disproportionately impacts African Americans and is much costlier than life sentences. I do not believe that the General Assembly should pass a bill to reinstate the death penalty, and I will oppose efforts to reinstate the death penalty.
KATHY JENNINGS: Did not provide a yes or no answer. I do not personally support the death penalty. It has not proven to be an effective deterrent, and the process by which it has been imposed has been ruled unconstitutional. If the legislature chooses to reenact the death penalty, as Attorney General, I am sworn to uphold the law and cannot categorically refuse to enforce it.
BAIL REFORM – Will you pledge to support changes in the law that eliminate or radically reduce the use of monetary payment as a condition of pretrial release? Please give a yes or no answer, and any explanation you believe is necessary.
TIM MULLANEY: Yes ☒ No☐ I am open to any reasonable solution that reduces the pre-trial population in our prisons and still ensures that defendants are present for appropriate disposition of their case.
CHRIS JOHNSON: Yes ☒ No☐ I am in full support of the current efforts to make Delaware’s bail system fairer. I would instruct prosecutors to never seek cash bail except in the case of kingpins, other whitecollar criminals, and violent offenders.
KATHY JENNINGS: Yes ☒ No☐ I support the use of a risk-based bail system that does not depend upon ability to pay.
LAKRESHA ROBERTS: Yes ☒ No☐ [Roberts did not provide an explanatory answer here, but her answer to a previous question was on point regarding monetary bail, so I have included it here:] I fully support efforts to reform Delaware’s bail system. Whether or not an individual is detained pre-trial should not be contingent upon their ability to pay cash bail. Detention should be based on the alleged offense, risk to the community, and flight risk.