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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Capeless or Knight: Vote Your Voice

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, September 01, 2006

Rarely does a state primary election offer voters the opportunity to make their voices heard as loudly as the upcoming Sept. 19 election.

It is during that election that a four-year Berkshire County District Attorney term will be decided. Voters will opt to return incumbent DA David Capeless to the office or choose to put attorney Judith Knight at the office helm.

Differences between the two candidates are clear and precise, and to their credit, neither has backed away from their position on the dispensing of justice or their ideas about prosecution. Anyone who has researched Capeless and Knight - and if you are a Berkshire registered voter, you should have done so by now - knows something about each candidate and each candidate stance.

And A Great Debate Was Heard Throughout The Land...

Knight has made plain her disagreement with Capeless' decision to charge a particular group of young people caught up in a 2004 Great Barrington drug bust with school zone drug violations, a charge which carries a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. He could have passed on the school zone charges, which, if those charged are convicted, will cause the ruin of young lives, she has said.

Capeless has made it equally clear that his office has used its' discretionary powers in situations of cooperation, such as a person charged with a drug offense who gives up the identities of those who provide the drugs. In the Great Barrington matter, he has said, cooperation wasn't forthcoming.

The Great Barrington situation led to great debate and a barrage of news stories, letters to various editors, and a vast and varied "weighing-in" by the community-at-large on who should be charged, when they should be charged, and with what they should be charged.

I found myself in complete agreement with two points brought out time and time again by different people: had the Great Barrington arrests occurred in Pittsfield or North Adams, the outcry would have been almost nothing. In fact, I'll take it to the next level; had those arrests happened in the central or northern Berkshire city, I believe the actions would have been hailed as solid law enforcement practice.

But I also agree whole-heartedly that conviction on any of the charges involved or being sentenced to serve out a two-year mandatory sentence would irrevocably change the life of any young person impacted. I would agree the changes would not be for the better.

Justice In What Degree

What message do the voters want to send? What measure of justice do the citizens want dispensed?

Because that is the real question in this race. And Capeless and Knight have left no question about where each stands.

Be Careful What You Wish For...

It bears mentioning that mandatory minimum sentences do not originate from district attorney offices.

It is worth a walk down memory lane to remember that most mandatory minimum sentencing laws were generated about 20 to 25 years ago by elected legislators faced with vocal voters upset over perceived "slaps on the wrist" handed out by "liberal judges."

At the time these mandatory minimums were carved into legal stone, most folks vigorously supported them.

Until, of course, the mandatory minimum came home to roost, and it suddenly dawned on folks that the word "mandatory" didn't just apply to the free lunch "at-risk" kid from the projects but also to the fine dining kid with the "promising future" from the 'burbs.

How did that old drug-awareness commercial go? Oh, yeah:

"Studies show that 40 percent of kids smoking pot live in the city. Ever wonder where the other 60 percent live?"

The Punishment That Keeps On Giving - And Taking

But let's not ignore the fact -and yes, it is a fact - that a first offender convicted of any non-violent crime who pays for the crime with jail time will deal with social consequences long after the two-year, three-year, four-year, or more-year sentence is over.Those consequences may well hinder employment options, education opportunities, and even the ability to provide some types of public service or seek elected office.

There are alternatives in the absence of a minimum mandatory sentence charge. Probation punishments are not really the party some people believe them to be.

Be Careful How You Hold The Cup....

In most cases, individuals on probation are court-ordered to participate in substance abuse programs and are subject to random drug testing.

Community service requirements are often imposed. In some parts of the county, a probationer may be subject to unannounced home or work visits by the supervising probation officer. In some cases, people on probation wear monitoring devices on their ankles.

Of course, before such alternative measures can be imposed, individuals must actually face a court judge. And even probation can leave a blemish on a person's record.

Included in the much-ballyhooed discretionary powers of a district attorney is the power to decline to prosecute.

Sometimes the court experience is missed because a person is very lucky and is never caught selling the dope, pawning the stolen jewelry, or abusing the kid. Sometimes it's because it really was "the first time I ever did it, I swear!" and the behavior is never repeated.

Sometimes other things -cooperation being one- keep people from looking into the face of a judge. Sometimes a case is never brought forward.

To Free Or Not To Free

Think about what Knight and Capeless have said, think about what "justice" and "community" mean to you and your family.

Remember that Capeless hasn't put every teen-ager in the county in jail, nor does he want to, and Knight, if elected, can't put every wayward, pot-smoking kid into treatment. She will have to prosecute a few of them whether she wants to or not.

"To free or not to free" simply isn't that simple. And no matter which candidate is elected, he or she will have to deal with much more than kids using, selling, or helping friends connect with "weed."

What do you really want for your street, your city, your county? What justice do you want when the rowdy kids from down the block break into your house and steal your cookie jar money, or beat up your son, or sell joints to your daughter? What justice do you want when a local business is robbed at gunpoint?

What justice do you want when the kid in the 'cuffs is yours?

Ask questions. Research the candidates. Think about it. Decide. And vote.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or 802-823-9367.
Your Comments
Post Comment
on the singuar drug issue Capeless clings to a failed policy, Studies show that mandatory school zone laws are not effective, and all 5 senate candidates agree. More importantly his approch - squeal for a deal- is both morally corrupt and in the case of the taconoc 19 a wholesale failure- where are the lbs of pot, large amounts of coke or heroin that should have been discovered after a 8 month investigation... In the meantime hard drug use continues to escalate- way above the state average - bacause he rigidly embraces flawed policys and is not willing to explore alternative approaces. We are not safer , our kids are not safer - we are given his empty "tough on drug dealer" rehotic with no concrete results. Oh yeah, there is a 17 yr old kid who will not only serve two yrs in prison but will be a felon for the rest of his life becasue he sold 1 joint.

while we argue over this high profile press friendly case- the areas of tough violent real crime - pittsfield -spirral upwards increasing 40% from 2004. We need a da a freash approach and violent crime as the number one priority- vote for Judith Knight- She has experience , commitment and judgement.
from: night is the choiceon: 09-03 00:00:00-2006


 
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