Following a couple of questions regarding how justice works in the legal system and their opinions on what violation has the largest affect on the community (which both agreed were of the drug-related variety), the candidates were inquired on more specific topics.
"While the deferral fund is allowed to be used for law enforcement purposes, which is a very broad definition, the main responsibility is to maximize the benefit to the community," Democratic candidate Charles Hear said during the debate, which was sponsored by the Teens for Liberty Generation Joshua Club. "If there is no law enforcement purpose for the funding to be used for, it should be put in the bank so it is available when a need or emergency arises."
Republican incumbent Lee Reberger retorted that the fund is currently being used to meet the needs of law enforcement, whether it be for copier usage, trial deputy, new weapons or otherwise, and according to state statutes, the fund is not allowed to draw interest.
While both candidates agreed drugs are a major issue in the county, they differed in their belief in how the punishment phase should be approached.
"Each case should be viewed independently and on their own merits," Reberger said. "There are a lot of factors to be considered, including the defendant's criminal history. It is not as simple as saying a B felony violation warrants an automatic 10-year sentence, because statutes allow a term of 6-20 years, and those factors help determine where the appropriate punishment lies."
Hear responded, "Yes, there are aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but the state has an advisory sentence of 10 years for a B Felony, which includes meth dealing. If a person has dealt drugs, they should get exactly what the legislature said."
The candidates also addressed the nuances of plea agreements and when they should be offered.
Reberger explained the courts do not have the time to take every one of the cases to trial, but there is an expectation from the courts to provide a plea proposal on all of them.
"Because of the case load, which is approximately 1,000 new criminal cases each year, plea agreements are a necessary evil in the system," he said. "This is another area where all factors have to be considered when preparing a plea because if there is a static reaction just from a particular charge or act, we would not be providing sufficient justice."
Hear agreed the need of pleas is there due to the amount of cases flowing through the judicial system, but added additional factors have to be taken into consideration on whether or not to take a matter to trial.
"In many instances, someone will confess which means the level of punishment needs to be considered," Hear said. "But there needs to be a balance because if law enforcement officers have done their job and found sufficient proof the crime had been committed, that creates less of a risk of taking the matter to trial."
Candidates also had the opportunity to answer questions on peripheral matters such as illegal aliens and punishing mothers who have children who die shortly after birth due to drug addiction, which were matters that are not completely the responsibility of the prosecutor.
During closing comments, Reberger pointed out that in local jury trials where special prosecutors were used, it was due to a conflict, which would continue should Hear be elected, as he would not be able to prosecute cases in which he is currently the public defender.
"This is not television," Reberger said. "There is a lot of management involved and it is a lot more than just the courtroom."
"I went to school to be a trial attorney, and if elected I will be that, along with accepting plea agreements which carry significantly higher sentences," Hear said. "We need to do something different, and I believe I can do better to the tune of also saving thousands of dollars."
Residents will have another opportunity to meet and question Reberger and Hear, along with other political candidates for local, state and national positions tonight during a political forum at the Clay County 4-H Fairgrounds. The forum, which is co-sponsored by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce and Clay County Farm Bureau, will begin at 6:30 p.m.