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 V.17 No.44 | October 30 - November 5, 2008 
Alibi’s Online Election Guide

Feature

District Attorney

Job Description: Prosecutes on behalf of city government.

Term: Four years (no term limit)

Salary: $109,000

Kari Brandenburg, Democrat (Incumbent)

Website: reelectbrandenburg.com

1) What experience makes you qualified for this position?

I have almost 30 years of experience as a criminal trial lawyer and have successfully served as District Attorney for the last eight years. I take a multifaceted approach to my job and am willing to fight personally for issues that are important to our community. In addition to running the largest law firm in the state, I continue to work as an active trial lawyer and have personally tried several high-profile cases while serving as DA. I am willing to try new approaches to solve community problems and believe in working proactively with law enforcement, the court and community organizations.

2) In what ways do you hope to work with the state public defender?

Our office will continue to actively seek out ways to work effectively with the state public defender’s office to improve the way cases are handled and speed resolution of cases. The Early Case Resolution Program, Drug Court and Judicial Supervision Program (formerly known as “Mental Health Court”) are but a few examples of these collaborative efforts.  One area I hope to work on in the future will be to lobby the Legislature for greater support of both agencies. While salaries have improved in recent years, both agencies need greater support in order to retain the most qualified employees.

3) Do you feel that New Mexico’s statutes are more or less strict than they should be? Would you lobby for higher sentences?

With a few notable exceptions, I feel our statutes allow judges to give an appropriate sentence for crimes committed by an offender. I do plan to lobby for changes in auto theft laws, asking for this crime to be sentenced the same way as the theft of other high-dollar items. Present laws are too lenient and do not take into account how much the loss of a vehicle affects thousands of citizens annually. I will also lobby for improvements in the Habitual Offender Statute. At present, many career criminals are no longer eligible for the extended sentences they deserve.

4) Are you in favor of mandatory minimum or maximum sentences, or do you think  judges should have that discretion?

New Mexico law already states maximum sentences for all crimes. Some statutes such as DWIs and first-degree offenses carry a minimum jail/prison sentence and do not allow probation for that time. Aside from that, judges generally have quite a bit of discretion to decide about jail time or probation. While I don’t always agree with their decisions, I believe it’s important for judges to be able to consider the unique circumstances of each crime and the history and attitude of each offender when they pronounce sentence. Mandatory jail time for all crimes may not always serve the interests of justice.

5) In what cases would you seek that someone get mandatory rehabilitation?

Serious treatment is essential for rehabilitation in most cases. It often allows the best opportunity for changed behavior. An offender who remains untreated is almost certain to continue committing crimes and cycle in and out of jail. Research shows that even those who initially resist treatment can eventually benefit from required participation. Programs such as Drug Court have proven very successful. Other offenders can receive treatment or counseling as a requirement of probation. Offenders sentenced to jail or prison can usually begin some form of treatment during their incarceration and then be required to complete specific rehabilitation as a condition of probation or parole upon their release. 

Lisa Torraco, Republican

Website: torraco4da.org

1) What experience makes you qualified for this position?

As a former professor at UNM School of Law, I taught law students to become Assistant District Attorneys. I also taught future attorneys about the complexities of the criminal justice system. Some voters may be surprised to learn that I actually have more prosecutorial experience than our current DA. I prosecuted all levels of offenses for 16 years, while my opponent was a criminal defense attorney until her election eight years ago. I have tried hundreds of criminal cases. My prosecutorial experience comes from Rio Arriba and Santa Fe, not just in Bernalillo County.

2) In what ways do you hope to work with the state public defender?

I will work with the public defender in order to reform the grand jury system, which relies too heavily on hearsay. I will work to institute a preliminary hearing system that will allow more transparency in charging and give accountability to the felony charging system.

I am committed to the Innocence Project and I will open any closed files the Innocence Project attorneys believe might contain erroneous convictions. I will work to ensure that all those wrongfully convicted shall be release and no wrongfully accused shall be tried.

3) Do you feel that New Mexico's statutes are more or less strict than they should be? Would you lobby for higher sentences?

Our legislators have done a great job responding to the concerns of people who just don’t feel safe from drunk drivers, repeat offenders and violent criminals. The problem is that most of the punishments for repeat offenders are plea bargained away. Even supposedly mandatory punishments for habitual offenders are “waived” so that a defendant will agree to a plea bargain.

I will work for term limits for district attorneys so no single person will have the awesome power of the state for an extended period. District attorneys should be limited to two consecutive terms (eight years).

4) Are you in favor of mandatory minimum or maximum sentences, or do you think judges should have that discretion?

Maximum sentences are a fundamental principle of our justice system. I favor mandatory maximums for every crime but murder. On the other hand, judges should always have discretion to free a good citizen in unusual circumstances. But no district attorney can eliminate the mandatory minimums prescribed for convictions. What I can do is use my discretion not to charge someone with a crime if the minimum sentence would be too harsh under the circumstances.

5) In what cases would you seek that someone get mandatory rehabilitation?

This will be the norm in my administration because few criminals act simply out of greed or hate; usually a drug problem or psychological issue is involved. “Mandatory rehabilitation” (whether it treats drugs, alcohol, anger management or something else) is really a choice the defendant makes. Most Albuquerque defendants in rehabilitation have chosen to pay for their own treatment rather than go to jail, pick up litter or face another penalty. When the state or federal government can pay for treatment, I want it to go first to young people and folks who have a record of following the law.

 

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