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Debating criminal issues, the death penalty and sexual offenders

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Oct 9, 2006

How do you feel about the death penalty? Or the three-strikes-and-you’re-out law in California? Or trying 14-year-olds as adults? Or favoring police officers in the court system so that any crimes that they commit get viewed under a different light? Or what to do about convicted sexual offenders living near our homes?

These were just a series of questions asked this week to the two candidates running for the DA’s race in Santa Clara County. And all these questions come under the purview of the DA’s office.

I had the marvelous opportunity to moderate a debate on Monday at the Rotary Club of Palo Alto (of which I am a member) between Judge Dolores Carr and Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu, the two candidates in a heated race for District Attorney of Santa Clara County. It’s a race for a very important seat.

Very important because we are talking about a county office that has 190 attorneys (think about the salaries attorneys made), 90 to 100 special investigators, an office that supervises the county Crime Lab, and an office that has a $68 million annual budget.

Most of us yawn about such local election issues. Most of us never get to know the candidates (just as we don’t get to know judicial candidates).

So the debate on Monday was a great opportunity to learn a lot. Both of these candidates, both of whom are women, are articulate, knowledgeable, and practiced attorneys. We are very lucky to have them running for the DA seat. This time it’s a choice, not an echo.

Interestingly, if elected, they will probably be re-elected, and re-elected, and re-elected to four-year terms of office. This office usually becomes a lifetime occupation – provided the DA does not do anything ridiculous. We are talking about a long-term office here.

So I ask, how do you feel about the death penalty? Should the DA’s office urge that the more heinous criminals be subject to a death penalty? And how do you feel about the third-strike option, particularly if the third strike is a minor crime, like stealing a tire, or a crime against oneself –possessing a couple of grams of marijuana. And how do you feel about trying 14-year-olds as adults? Or 13-year-olds?

I remember when my sons were 14-years-old, they were still short-kid freshmen and just getting acne.

My point: This is a critical race. Let’s talk about the issues involved.

Karyn Sinunu’s home page is Web Link, and Dolores Carr’s is Web Link

Comments (15)

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Posted by SkepticAl
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 9, 2006 at 11:40 pm

A few thoughts - Death penalty - my heart goes out to anyone victimized directly or indirectly by the types of offenders who face the death penalty, and there are certainly some deserving criminals out there. But I think only a perfect system can deal in the ultimate penalty. The legal and ethical problems with administration of death sentences are well known and amply documented, to the extent that I could not in good conscience support the continuation of death sentences. On a case-by-case basis, you can always point to those who deserve to die - that's easy. But can you face the persons and families of those who have been, or inevitably will be murdered by the "justice" system, and tell them it's worth it? I can't. Three-strikes - with our current prison over-crowding problem, I'd have a hard time looking at a toaster-thief and saying that the interests of the state are well-served with a mandatory 25-to-life. Non-violent drug offenders also stand out among those we don't need to imprison for lengthy periods.

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Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 10, 2006 at 1:23 am

There's never enough information available on these important local elections, especially judicial races. In the past (when I lived in another district), I actually called around to local law offices to get the skinny on certain candidates, the official information was so scarce. Diana, was the debate recorded, audio or video? Is there any way it could be made available as a web cast and the link posted here?

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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Oct 10, 2006 at 7:45 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

A.J. -

Unfortunately, the debate was not recorded. But if you go to the candidates' web sites, they will be participating in other local debates, and you may be able to see them there.

I certainly agree with you that it is hard to learn about candidates in county and judicial races, which are very important races.

Like this comment
Posted by Suzanne
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2006 at 11:52 am

Please don't characterize all of us as "yawning" about local election issues. What an insult! I've read everything I can about these 2 candidates. I do agree with you that this is an important election. Local issues and elections impact our lives directly and it behooves all of us to find out as much as possible about these candidates. As to the issues you raise, it has been proven that the death penalty does not deter murder. It affects our entire society by accepting murder as a solution to a problem; hence, increasing tendencies toward violence rather than the opposite. Putting minor criminals in prison is riduculous - it's cheaper to give them treatment on the outside. Anyone who has been connected with the juvenile justice system knows that most 14 year olds are still children in many ways. More social services and fewer prisions would improve our society. We have our priorities wrong to not provide medical and social services and just imprison people when they commit minor crimes.

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Posted by Maria
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2006 at 6:30 pm

Diana, Diana, speak for yourself, not others! I don't "Yawn" about local elections and neither do my friends. They affect us and our children very directly and I try to read and listen to what all the candidates have to say.

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Posted by anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 11, 2006 at 12:35 am

Maria, Suzanne,

DD said "most of us" yawn over these races, and she's right. The gist of her article is correct, in my experience, and the experience of many otehrs that I know. And I'm a pretty informed voter.

From what I see, per DD's prior blog, some people just like to come out for no other reason than to bash DD. Your posts prove my point.

Like this comment
Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Oct 11, 2006 at 8:25 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Suzanne and Maria --

I did not say everyone "yawns" about local elections, I said many people do. We usually have a low voter turnout in some elections, and the number of votes cast in the local judicial races are lower than votes cast for, say, gubernatorial candidates.

I know that some people, including the two of you, do take elections seriously and you do your homework.


Like this comment
Posted by GSB
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 11, 2006 at 11:30 am

Could people please stop coming on here and looking for a fight with DD? Geez.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 11, 2006 at 5:36 pm

Suzanne probably was just irritated at being lumped in a sweeping generalization when she works hard to discover what local candidates are advocating. It is difficult sometimes. Maybe people could offer all our local candidates some suggestions as to how to make their positions well known. The debate that Miss Diamond moderated was certainly a good start. That is certainly better than candidates advertisements, which I feel are frequently suspect and sometimes guilty of exaggeration. I know all our local papers offer their opinions, but those are the papers' opinions not a true record of candidates' records and proposals. Palo Altans - any suggestions?

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Posted by John
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 11, 2006 at 5:50 pm

Too bad the Rotary Club debate was private. Let's hope these candidates debate somewhere nearby in public. This is a very important election. Liked your comments, Bob.

Like this comment
Posted by Simon
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 11, 2006 at 6:12 pm

It looks like they are both going to be at Mountain View City Hall on Castro Street tonight at 7.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2006 at 2:52 am

If this is such an important race, why wasn't the debate covered by our local papers?

Like this comment
Posted by another anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 15, 2006 at 4:53 pm

regarding 3 strikes, I read LaDoris Cordell's (P.A. City Council Member)thoughts against it in a column she wrote recently in one of the P.A. papers (sorry can't remember which one), and I found her arguments against it unconvincing.

Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2006 at 4:57 pm

Cordell's column appeared in last week's Palo Alto Weekly. Here is the link:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by lauren
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 29, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Iknow that Sinunu supports three strikes, anyone know Carr's position?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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