Candidate Full Name: Lori S. Yokoyama
Office: Cook County State's Attorney
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Survey Questions (Character limit of 2,000 per response)
1. Do you support marijuana reform laws? Why?
Drafting and passing legislation is not the role of the State's Attorney. In fact, it is a direct violation of her duty as State's Attorney to apply her own personal beliefs and determine whether a law is or is not constitutional. I support all of the laws that affect Cook County Citizens and will apply them fairly and equally. The City of Chicago recently chose to "decriminalize" marijuana possession of 15 grams or less. The police are allowed to write a citation with fines of $200---500.00, up to 10 hours of community service and there would be no risk of jail time. Studies have shown that in States which have adopted similar laws the use of marijuana did not increase. The cost associated with prosecuting cases involving the possession of marijuana has skyrocketed along with the number of arrests. Even before incarceration, the cost associated with the arrest, booking and preliminary hearing is in the thousand(s) of dollars. Once convicted and sentenced, the substantial majority of these individuals were jailed and fined. Oftentimes, the individual could not afford to pay the fine and became a guest of the City or County for up to six (6) months in jail. The annual cost to house a prisoner is in the $22,000+ range. If each of the 18,000 arrested were jailed for six (6) months this would cost the City of Chicago over $198,000,000, plus all of the professional time afforded by the Police Officers or other Law Enforcement, the prosecutors, the Judges and the support staff who prepare and manage all of the paper work. Taking these budgetary issues into account with the massive overcrowding in our jails, I support the decision by the Chicago City Council allowing Police Officers to issue tickets to those who are in possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use. With the Chicago ordinance regarding this issue, it gives law enforcement the discretion to either ticket or arrest offenders. Therefore, if the offender is deemed to be a danger to the community, the person can be detained. If the police officer feels that the offender does not represent a hazard to the community, they can be issued a ticket. By reducing the substantial amount of time processing and prosecuting these cases, police officers will have more time to focus their attention on the serious crimes. One item that was not considered, however, was the inability to pay a fine regardless of how small or large. For those individuals who are not be able to pay there must be "alternative sentencing" including but not limited to community service or working in an urban garden.
2. Do you agree with the General Assembly passing a bill and Governor Quinn signing it, to ban the death penalty in Illinois? Why or why not?
Agreeing or disagreeing with the ban on the death penalty is not a role of the Cook County State's Attorney. With the ban in place, the personal position of the Cook County State's Attorney should not be an issue. That being said, however, I believe that the "death penalty" in the proper case, is an appropriate sentence and should not have been banned. There are genuinely evil people that exist in our society. As a result of this law, prosecutors across the state have lost an important tool against violent criminals. While I believe the decision to ask for the death penalty should be used sparingly, there should be the option available to seek justice and closure for the victims and families of violent crimes. When the Illinois Supreme Court was presented with the Theodoro Biaz case they stated that, "life imprisonment was not enough to protect society from this offender." In addition, the "cost" of housing prisoners such as Biaz makes everyone in Cook County their victims.
3. What have you done (or will do) to ensure wrongful convictions don't occur?
I would immediately increase the Conviction Integrity Unit. Three (3) ASA's, two investigators and one victim witness coordinator has proven to be insufficient and ineffective. The Unit has been in effect for over 6 months. During that time Ms. Alvarez has dismissed the charges against one man, Alprentiss Nash. But the full story is not told. Mr. Nash remained in prison for two additional years despite the belief that DNA testing would exonerate him. When his defense counsel requested the testing, Ms. Alvarez opposed the test. The trial court dismissed the request. But for the Appellate Court reversing the trial court, the DNA testing never would have been conducted and Mr. Nash would not have been freed. There are over 100 cases that need to be reviewed. Two high profile cases are the Dixmoor Five and the Englewood Four. Both cases have DNA evidence that either none of the accused were involved in the crime or it establishes that someone else committed the murder. Hundreds of people have been exonerated due to DNA testing. My job is to seek justice. Not just for some but for everyone in Cook County. I would never have opposed the DNA testing in the Nash case. I want to review "all" of the evidence. And if the evidence exonerates someone, (s)he deserves to be freed The cost to the taxpayers of Cook County was the professional hours spent opposing the DNA testing. The cost to Mr. Nash was the additional two (2) years of his loss of freedom. Is there a price that can be associated with that? How can it be justified to assign three (3) ASAs from close to a staff of 900 to review these cases? 3 I will make sure that each of these cases is thoroughly reviewed and order DNA testing where appropriate. I will consider the integrity of the witnesses and the alibis of the accused. As for those wrongfully convicted I will work with defense attorneys and the various community groups, such as the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School, the Innocence Project, etc. to expedite and streamline the process. My goal and objective is "justice over convictions" not "convictions at all costs, including justice."
4. If a defendant is accused of a non---violent crime and cannot afford bail, he or she is locked up, at taxpayer expense. Is this okay? Or would you prefer an alternative such as releasing suspects in non---violent cases on electronic monitoring?
Assuming there are no prior felony convictions, I would prefer an electronic monitoring system. The daily cost of locking someone up is approximately $300. Electronic monitoring would be a fraction of that cost.
5. Do you support some type of merit selection of judges as recommended by the Chicago Bar Association? Why or why not?
No. I believe that it would place too much power in the control of a very small group of people. By holding elections, the citizens of Cook County are able to consider the education, experience, training and in some instances, the prior rulings and/or positions of the Candidates and can make informed and educated decisions about who will be rendering legal opinions regarding the laws of the State of Illinois and their application.
6. Given cuts to the public defender program, what will your office do to ensure those without means get a fair trial?
In order to have a justice system that is free and fair to all, the role of the public defender is essential. However, with falling revenues at all levels of government, the Public Defender's office has not been immune. I would work with the Cook County Board to find an accommodation in order to retain as many public defenders as possible. With the efficiencies that I would institute as the next Cook County State's Attorney, there would have to be an offset to allow the Public Defender's office to be properly staffed. 4 One area where I believe resources could be allocated is by eliminating or reducing the $700,000 annual maintenance budget for the Cook County State's Attorney's fleet of vehicles. This is an expense the office can ill afford in this challenging economy. The money would be better spent to ensure that the accused have a quick and speedy trial. I would also work directly with the PD's office and other Legal Clinics/Foundations to draft realistic schedules for investigations, hearings and trials, without denying the accused a "speedy" trial.