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DA hopefuls share views

Question and Answer

Incumbent Brett Carter and challenger Matt Chandler are both Republicans seeking the 9th judicial district attorney position in the June 1 primary.

Q: During the last 17 months, almost as many people have died by homicide than in the previous five years combined in Curry County. What do you make of the number of homicides in the county and what should be done to curb the problem?

Carter: If we only have one homicide that is a problem. We need to make sure that those who commit violent crimes are convicted and serve a long sentence. The DA’s office during the last few years has given priority and gotten some of the stiffest sentences for violent crimes. During the last few years I have prosecuted four or five homicide cases where life sentences were handed down. With our juveniles, if they commit violent crimes they should be transferred to the adult docket and be prosecuted as adults.

Chandler: The fact is, everyone that has committed these violent crimes has been in front of our judges numerous times. They lost fear of being held accountable. A homicide is the most horrific crime that can be committed in society. As a prosecutor you have to be able to understand that you are the voice in that courtroom for the person who is no longer here and you need to be able to handle the case with due care. Even though each case is different, you want the end result to be the same. I have proven through my experience that the end result will be guilty and justice will be served.

Q: What are your thoughts on how the area’s current court systems are being run?

Carter: The court system here is backlogged. Prosecutors in my office carry more than 300 open cases. Trying to get them scheduled is tough. We do need a fourth district county judge. We need to be able to move the cases forward at a fast pace. If you look at the Clovis Police Department’s annual report, many crimes are down. It’s the violent crimes that are increasing. We need to be putting more of an emphasis on prosecuting these violent crimes.

Chandler: I believe we have to be willing to go to jury trial. I don’t have any problem with taking a case and putting it in front of a jury. The DA office has too many plea negotiations with repeat offenders. We have to utilize the laws that are on the books. If you are a repeat offender you will be prosecuted and sentenced. There is a law on the books that allows the courts to sentence violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their time without the opportunity to parole. We must utilize that law when dealing with violent crime offenders.

Q: Would you be willing to prosecute instances in which government officials fail to comply with the requirements of the state’s open meetings and open records acts?

Carter: The responsibility in dealing with open records acts is with the attorney general, but if they couldn’t do it, we could provide assistance. And of course, if someone was breaking the law, we would prosecute them.

Chandler: No one is above the law. When I am district attorney, if someone breaks the law and there is probable cause that the law is violated, no matter what their status might be in town, I will prosecute them. It’s the DA’s job to assure that the law is not broken and I would uphold the law of the state.”

Q: During the 2004 Legislative session, a controversial bill that would have required all vehicles to have ignition interlocks was introduced. Do you think the bill is a good idea?

Carter: I don’t agree with the ignition interlock bill. I don’t believe you should penalize those individuals who aren’t committing DWI. For those who are convicted of DWI, the system could cut down on our DWI rate. But I don’t think every citizen should have to pay to have the devices in their cars just because others are breaking the law.

Chandler: Driving under the influence of drugs or liquor is a significant issue in New Mexico. There are far too many innocent people who suffer at the hands of drunken drivers. The DA’s office should play a prominent role to reduce drunken driving. But I don’t necessarily agree that placing ignition interlocks in vehicles is a good idea. We must enforce the laws on the books. DWI is a serious crime because of the effect it has on our state and it must be handled seriously.

Q: During the last few years, meth has become a major problem for counties across the country, including Curry and Roosevelt counties. How should law enforcement and the DA’s office fight the problem?

Carter: Years ago, when I first started my work as a prosecutor, cocaine was the drug of choice. Now meth is the drug we see most often. One of the reasons is because it’s easy to make and it’s fairly cheap. We see more people becoming addicted to this substance. We need to be sure that those who are out there manufacturing it receive stiff sentences. Those who use it for the first time in small amounts need to be placed in a treatment program and if they fail to attend the program we should revoke their probation even if they are a first-time offender.

Chandler: Meth has spread in this district like wildfire. It is the choice drug because of the convenience of it. It’s easy to manufacture. Ingredients for it can be purchased at a store like Wal-Mart. I’m a big advocate of a bill that enables prosecutors to prosecute adults who allow meth to be produced in front of children. That is why I would like to bring a program called Meth Watch to the community. It educates people about meth and meth labs. This district is a great place to run a business, but that does not mean manufacturing and selling drugs.

Q: Why should people vote for you?

Carter: I have the experience prosecuting for 17 years. I don’t have any intention of going to another political office. If you had a relative that was killed or raped you would want the most experienced person on that case. Over the last several years I have prosecuted the majority of high profile cases in the DA office. Some of the stiffest sentences have been handed down under my leadership. I do have the support of those in my office and they realize that experience does count.

Chandler: I feel like it’s time to change the leadership of this office. We have to take a pro-active approach to fighting crime. The approach the DA has taken over the past two years has not reduced the crime rates. I feel like I am the man for the job because I can effectively communicate with citizens and law enforcement and can bring to the district new ideas and vision that are working across this country that this district deserves.

— Compiled by David Arkin

CNJ Correspondent