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2018 Election Preview: District Attorney of Marin County, California

Candidates disagree on the county’s cooperation with ICE and on the treatment of young defendants.

In contested runoff for prosecutor, candidates disagree on treatment of young defendants and on cooperation with ICE

Many of California’s elections for district attorney were resolved in June, but Marin County hosts a November runoff between county prosecutor Lori Frugoli and former federal prosecutor Anna Pletcher. Frugoli came close to the majority threshold needed to win outright in the June primary, receiving 49 percent to Pletcher’s 31 percent. Both are running as Democrats; Pletcher is endorsed by the Marin Democratic Party.

Frugoli is backed by many law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Bob Doyle. Doyle has implemented a policy of close cooperation with ICE, providing ICE with the release dates of people in its custody. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that over the first four months of 2018 Doyle complied with 90 percent of ICE requests for release dates, compared to none in nearby San Francisco. Doyle faced no opponent in this year’s sheriff race. But his immigration policy has trickled into the DA race. Asked about it at a candidate forum, Frugoli answered with circumspection that, while she would prefer providing fewer release dates, she understood the policy and the reason for it.

At the same forum, Pletcher warned of the consequences of “a community [that is] afraid to rely on law enforcement to keep them safe.” She later wrote an op-ed on this for the Marin County Bar Association. “The Marin Sheriff’s policy creates a situation where anyone who comes into contact with the criminal justice system is at risk for deportation,” she writes. “Prosecutors can use the tools at their disposal to rebuild trust in the community.” She points out that prosecutors can avoid triggering deportation proceedings by specifically relying on diversion programs that do not rely on a guilty plea. Frugoli has also said that she would have prosecutors consider immigration consequences when making prosecutorial decisions.

While campaigning, both candidates speak about wanting to expand the use of restorative justice and to get more local actors invested in that process. Both also propose devoting more resources to helping people obtain expungements; Frugoli says she would hire a “social justice deputy district attorney” to oversee this. Neither candidate commits to never seeking the death penalty.

A rift emerges, however, over how to treat young defendants. Only Pletcher commits to not seeking life without parole for offenses a person committed under the age of 25; and only Pletcher commits also to not prosecuting minors as adults. Importantly, Pletcher does not restrict that second answer to low-level offenses. “Youth who have committed violent crimes should also be considered for diversion or restorative programs,” she says.