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Issue Position: Bringing Justice to Criminals

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About one third of the cases we decide are criminal. These cases test the character of any judge serving in an elected judiciary because few judges ever get in trouble with the public by holding for the prosecution, even at the expense of important constitutional rights which may be sacrificed to get to that result.

I long ago promised myself that no innocent man would go to prison, nor would a guilty one be denied a fair trial, to make my re-election changes any easier. Let me explain.

It was no accident that a majority of the words in our Bill of Rights concern criminal investigation, trial and punishment. The Founders were concerned with crime and punishment all right, but they were even more concerned with fairness and respect for individuals. The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, for example, does little to help law enforcement but does a lot to promote the values of a free society.

I would argue, however, a healthy respect for the rights of the accused, and those who have been mistakenly subject to investigation who are never accused of anything, is hardly incompatible with vigorous and effective law enforcement. As the ultimate tribute to the fine police investigations in this state, as well as the diligent and competent work of public prosecutors, fully 94% of all serious criminal charges end in guilty pleas. Of the remainder, the overwhelming majority end in convictions upheld on appeal. Of those convictions that are reversed on appeal (I doubt it is more than 1% of the total) that "reversal" probably means a new trial that will produce another conviction.

On the other hand, no matter how careful the police and how skilled the prosecutor, we are all human and mistakes can happen. That's what appeals are for. I want to be as careful and fair in these cases as you would want me to be in your case. Besides, we decide cases by published opinion that are precedent for all future cases. If the bad guy loses his legal rights, those rights are gone for the good guy, too.


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