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Smart Voter
Santa Clara County, CA November 2, 2004 Election
Candidates Answer Questions on the Issues
Judge - Superior Court; County of Santa Clara; Office 7

The questions were prepared by the the League of Women Voters of Los Altos-Mtn. View Area and asked of all candidates for this office.

See below for questions on Sentencing, Juvenile Probation Department, Juvenile Crime Act

Click on a name for other candidate information.   See also more information about this contest.

1. As a judge, you may be called on to impose sentences for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to homicide. While there are sentencing parameters and guidelines, you will have latitude. What factors and principles/values will affect your decisions?

Answer from Griffin Bonini:

The factor foremost in my mind as it relates to sentencing is Public Safety. Is this a defendant that is a risk to our community, or is he/she a good candidate for probation? As a criminal prosecutor with the District Attorney's Office I am the only candidate whose job focuses on ensuring Public Safety. I routinely deal with victims, the family of victims, and victim advocacy groups (such as through the YWCA). I see firsthand what crime does to our community. I have prosecuted thousands of criminal cases on behalf of our community and believe I am the best qualified to "judge" whether a defendant is a criminal that needs to be taken off of our streets or a person deserving of a second chance.

It is also critically important that a judge treat each case individually and not pre-judge the defendant. In each case a probation report is produced for the judge to consider before sentencing. It may contain a personal history, family history, and criminal history of the defendant. Also, the California Rules of Court list factors in "Aggravation" and factors in "Mitigation" that the court must evaluate. Such factors relate to the serious or violent nature of the crime, the level of participation in the crime (i.e. was the defendant a "leader" in the crime or more of a passive participant), the amount of financial loss from the crime, any injuries to the victims, etc. A judge that does not take into account all of these facotrs is remiss in his/her duties to give each and every person that comes before the court a fair and thorough hearing.

Finally, the sentencing law in California can be extremely complicated. Part of my professional experience has been as a law instructor statewide on a variety of topics (trial techniques, evidence, cross-examination, etc.). I have been an instructor on sentencing law for new prosecutors. It is vital that a candidate for judge be knowledgeable about California criminal sentencing law (after all there are over 45,000 criminal cases filed in Santa Clara County each year). I am that candidate. Thank you for taking the time to read my statement.

Answer from Enrique Colin:

All cases are different. Each person who comes before a judge is an individual with different circumstances. I will consider the convicted defendant's criminal history, if any, the nature of the crime charged, the circumstances of the incident and the defendant's social background. I will use the same principals of justice and fairness for all those who come before me. I will also consider the impact on victims. Certainly, if violence is used in a crime, it will be treated much more seriously than a non-violent crime in which the offender only hurt themselves.

2. Currently Superior Court supervises the County's Juvenile Probation Department, including the juvenile facilities. Last year serious issues were raised about staffing, practices and services. The Board of Supervisors placed a measure on the ballot that would transfer control of the Probation Department from the Court to the Supervisors. Superior Court judges oppose the measure. What are your views on this issue?

Answer from Enrique Colin:

Changing bureaucracies does not necessarily solve the problem. Whoever ends up the head of the Juvenile Probation Department needs to focus on the real issues facing juvenile offenders. All juvenile offenders should be treated with respect and dignity and be provided the needed services to help them overcome their problems while they are still young.

Answer from Griffin Bonini:

I am glad the issue is on the ballot because it helps focus attention on the problems that must be addressed, particularly as they relate to Juvenile Hall. If the supervisory responsibility stays with the Superior Court, or is transferred to the County Board of Supervisors, the problems we have all been reading about will still be there. Whomever has control of the probation department after March 2nd, their mandate will be to improve our probation department. I am glad Measure A focuses public attention on the issue and I think it will trigger constructive efforts to remedy the problems in Juvenile Hall -- regardless of the results of the ballot measure.

3. In March 2000 California voters adopted the Juvenile Crime Act which included punitive measures for juvenile offenses and gave prosecutors, rather than judges, the authority to send teenagers to adult court. What is your opinion about how this act is applied in Santa Clara County?

Answer from Enrique Colin:

The Juvenile Crime Act was an over reaction by the public. Prosecutors should not be given increased power to send juveniles to adult court especially when they have an interest in the outcome of a case. The potential exists for many young offenders to be prosecuted as adults at the whim of an overzealous prosecutor.

Answer from Griffin Bonini:

Thank you for asking this. In talking to many members of our community, I have noticed great confusion on what is, and what is not, allowed under Proposition 21. Proposition 21 allows the community-elected District Attorney, in certain extremely serious cases, to "direct file" charges in adult court against certain juvenile offenders. A high-profile current example is a case where a fourteen year-old is accused of shooting in the back, and killing, two unarmed rival gang members as they ran away from him at a Jack-in-the-Box restuarant. Prior to Proposition 21, the longest time possible for such a juvenile offender to be confined was until his 25th birthday. After that, he was released back into our community -- regardless of the seriousness of his crime.

Under Proposition 21, the elected District Attorney (acting through his/her Deputy District Attorneys) may exercise his/her discretion in deciding whether certain individuals that have committed certain crimes should be treated as adults because of the severity of their crimes. Importantly, all this means is that the case is now prosecuted as any other adult case. The accused defendant now has all the guaranteed rights of an accused adult. For example, juvenile court proceedings are confidential proceedings entirely before the court -- juveniles do not have the right to a jury trial. Once in adult court, however, the defendant has the absolute right to a speedy and public jury trial where twelve members of our community must unanimously find him/her guilty in order to be convicted.

Importantly, long before Proposition 21, certain juvenile offenders were already being tried and sentenced in adult court. In what is called a "fitness" hearing the juvenile court judge determines whether the juvenile should be treated as a juvenile or as an adult. "Fitness" hearings are still the law and are still routinely used in Santa Clara County.

The District Attorney in each county in California is elected, in large part, to exercise his/her discretion in determining what charges are to be filed against which individuals. For example, the District Attorney determines on which cases to seek the death penalty, which cases to be charged as "three strikes," etc. Proposition 21 extends that discretion to certain juvenile offenders and crimes.

Finally, it is important to note that Proposition 21 is the law. As a judge I will follow that law -- whether I agree with it or not. I am seeking election to be a judge, not a legislator. Issues such as three-strikes, the death penalty, and juvenile offenders are hotly debated political (as well as legal) issues. As a judge my job will NOT be to determine whether I agree or disagree with the law, but to fairly and impartially apply the law we have in an intelligent matter. Judges have great discretion in how they handle the cases and individuals that come before them. That discretion, however, is JUDICIAL discretion based on well-established guidelines, statutes and appellate court opinions; it is not POLITICAL discretion based on personal political views. That is why, in part, judicial elections are non-partisan elections and the candidates are prohibited from lisitng political party, affiliations or issues in their ballot statements. Again, thank you for spending the time to become an informed voter.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Until noon on September 24 candidates must limit their answers to 300 words total for all questions so that a paper Voters Guide may be published. After that time word limits will no longer apply. Candidates' responses are not edited or corrected by the League or by Smart Voter.

The order of the candidates is random and changes daily.

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Created: December 15, 2004 13:34 PST
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