AG candidate calls for an end to plea bargains in sex offender cases

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(Host) The Republican candidate for attorney general, Karen Kerin, is calling for an end to all plea bargains in sex offender cases.

Kerin says law enforcement officials are too quick to accept a plea bargain in many cases, and she wants these cases to be more aggressively prosecuted.

Incumbent Attorney General Bill Sorrell says there’s no evidence to support Kerin’s claims.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) GOP attorney general candidate Karen Kerin says she wants to make criminal justice reforms a top priority in her campaign.

Kerin says many people charged with sex offenses are getting off easy because of poor investigative work by the police and a reluctance by local prosecutors to push for tougher sentences.

Kerin says plea bargains are at the heart of the problem and should be banned.

(Kerin) “Why, it makes the prosecutor look good. He got the conviction. It makes the public defender look good because he got the guy off from multiple charges. So they diminish the charges. The judge is happy with it because it got something off his docket. But that’s not what our legal system was designed to do."

(Kinzel) Attorney General Bill Sorrell defended the use of plea bargains.  He says sometimes local prosecutors don’t have all the evidence that they need to win a case.

Sorrell also says that all of Vermont’s state’s attorneys support an effort to create special investigative units throughout the state as the most effective way to crack down on sex offenders.

(Sorrell) “The suggestion that prosecutors are lazy and make plea bargains because they are afraid to go to trial or aren’t good in the courtroom, I mean, where’s the proof for that? I’m surprised that the suggestion is that I and state’s attorneys are soft on crime."

(Kinzel) GOP candidate Kerin also wants tougher laws. She supports the passage of a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for anyone convicted of sexually abusing a child – that’s something known as Jessica’s law.

(Kerin) “I’ve got to tell you, I think my solution is a lot better. Just get them off the streets. It used to be that we had a state farm, a state hospital where we could put these kind of people. And it was generally agreed that they didn’t belong on the streets and they didn’t get back out on the streets. We don’t have that any more."

(Kinzel) Sorrell says he’s willing to study this issue but he says he needs to see proof that this approach is effective in reducing crime rates. And that’s something he hasn’t seen yet.

(Sorrell) “Those who just say the easy thing to do is to lock these guys up so they can’t do it again, it sounds good. But there’s no evidence that I’ve seen that there are lesser crime rates in the states that have Jessica’s law."

(Kinzel) Vermont currently has a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence for people convicted of child sexual abuse. But judges do have the discretion to reduce the sentence to between five and 10 years.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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