Editor’s note: The League of Women Voters-East Central Mississippi posed the following question to Michael Grace and Kassie Coleman, candidates for district attorney for the 10th Circuit Court. Grace, a Democrat, will face Coleman, a Republican, in the Nov. 5 general election.
The League of Women Voters supports the establishment of a justice system that imposes fair and equitable control over the flow of prisoners into the state’s correctional system while reducing sentence disparity.
Regarding expedition of cases, The Meridian Star reported in February 2018 of lengthy delays of accused persons going to trial. The article cites numerous reasons for delays: systemic processes, volume of caseloads, resource availability and lack of personnel.
What changes will you bring to the district attorney’s office to expedite cases so the accused, victims and police can see justice move in a more timely manner?
Michael Grace: As district attorney, I plan to implement standards regarding pre-trial detention, pre-trial intervention, open discovery, and trials in order to expedite cases and achieve a swifter criminal justice system.
The United States and the Philippines are the only nations in the world that allow for-profit bond companies to operate, the rest of the world has outlawed the same. Our system usurps a public function, invites price gouging and causes corruption by giving bail agents an incentive to collude with prosecutors and judges to make sure bail is set high so their non-refundable fees go up. Indigent people who can’t afford bail are more likely to be incarcerated before his or her trial.
That person could lose their job, their house, their credit, custody of their kids, etc., all because they didn’t have the money to pay a bails bondsman. Therefore my office will, in general, recommend pre-trial release for individuals unless there is a substantial risk of harm to an individual or community or that persons a flight risk.
For people who are charged with a non-violent crime, and whose underlying problems are either mental illness or substance abuse issues, my office will offer such offenders pre-trial diversion and utilize non-profits, community programs, churches and mental health professionals to get these folks services they need and place them on the path to being productive law abiding citizens.
When there is an issue with a state agency, such as the underfunding of the State Crime Lab, I will publicly address those problems and advocate for the appropriate legislative remedy in order to create and maintain a swift criminal justice system in our district.
If my office has all the evidence necessary to move forward with trial, that is what we will do.
Jury trials are inherent part of our criminal justice system and we should have more of them.
One of the most dangerous clients I’ve ever been appointed to represent was indicted for armed robbery and on the audio tape of his confession he clearly stated he would have killed the victim.
After multiple continuances, however, the district attorney’s office offered a plea deal of six months in the boot camp-styled RID program. My office will take cases like that to trial so that offenders who are a danger to the public are behind bars.
Since my office intends to have more trials more often, and numerous trials have been continued due to newly disclosed evidence by the state, my office will take an expansive approach to discovery and adopt an open-file policy with defense counsel from the date or arraignment.
I will be a fierce advocate for victims and their families and my policies will lead to a quicker disposition and therefore hopefully closure for all involved, including law enforcement and the public.