Joel Buckingham, 41, won the office of San Benito County District Attorney in the recent race against Candice Mancino, 65, the incumbent. Buckingham received 7006 votes (59.43%) to Mancino’s 4782 (40.57%).
Buckingham has been previously employed at Ernst & Young in San Jose and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. He has also served as treasurer for the San Bernardino County Public Attorney’s Association.
Prior to the election, BenitoLink put questions to both Buckingham and Mancino on issues of concern to the community. After winning the election, Buckingham agreed to answer the following five questions.
BenitoLink: What is your first priority in an area you think is under-prosecuted and how will you address it?
Buckingham: One of the biggest concerns that I have is related to hit-and-run collisions. For quite a while hit-and-run cases have been resolved with a dismissal upon a showing of proof of payment of damages. I don’t believe this is working for the safety of the community. First, I observe in paying attention to the police scanner that hit-and-run collisions seem very common lately, and with the advent and then the aftermath of COVID it feels like the roads have become substantially less safe.
As Americans often our greatest risk of death or substantial injury occurs on our roadways. A hit-and-run is often associated with unsafe driving behavior and then is compounded by attempting to avoid culpability for that unsafe driving behavior. In the case of a hit-and-run, if the defendant had stayed at the collision scene they would have started at being civilly liable for damages. Merely requiring a person who left the scene of a collision to do what they would have been required to do had they stayed at the scene is not enough and sends the wrong message. After all, if the worst that happens if you run is that you owe what you would have if you stayed, this tells people they should run.
I intend to establish a policy for hit-and-run cases where the evidence is substantial to seek a conviction for the hit-and-run collision and appropriate punishment based upon the defendant’s history and otherwise not agree to a “civil compromise” in the cases of hit-and-run prosecutions.
Do you consider any of the areas of enforcement to be over-prosecuted and, if so, why?
I don’t know that I see much in terms of over-prosecution, but I do think we should make more expeditious use of some of the misdemeanor diversion programs involving possession of drug paraphernalia charges and drug possession charges that we are required by law to evaluate. By law, the DA’s office is required to review diversion eligibility under PC 1000 at the time of case filing, I want to make sure that is occurring so that the cases can be moved through the system as quickly as possible.
Also, according to a review of the case management system, it appears that about 85% of the individuals referred to our office involving truancy are Hispanic. Our filing statistics are consistent with the rates of referral (about 85% of the defendants charged for truancy are Hispanic). I want to make sure that there are no unconscious or subconscious bias issues when it relates to truancy referrals.
School attendance is important, and it is important for all segments of our community. This does not relate to home-schooling which is by law a legally acceptable alternative to traditional schooling under the law in the State of California, assuming those doing homeschooling file the necessary paperwork with the state.
Will we see an increase in the prosecution of white-collar crime?
Possibly, it first depends on whether or not there are new cases occurring that are referred to our office for review. Hopefully, anyone thinking of committing such a crime thinks better of it and does not engage in that behavior. Regardless, I intend to work closely with investigative agencies to ensure that financial cases get thoroughly investigated so we can effectively prosecute these types of cases if and when they occur.
How do you weigh prosecution and jailing for minor drug offenses vs treatment programs and prevention?
Ultimately, I want people who are addicted to choose treatment and subsequent abstention. Unfortunately for many in addiction, that’s not a choice they are likely to make unless the alternative to treatment is uncomfortable. As a result, the law establishes that people get initial opportunities at treatment and then if they choose to decline treatment, whether by word or action, they are subjected to these less comfortable alternatives. It is a pleasure when we see addicted people leave a life of addiction behind and find themselves out of the system and productive members of our society.
What is the biggest misconception about the district attorney you’d like to correct?
I think the biggest misconception that I’d like to correct is that the District Attorney’s Office can protect our community “on its own.” The protection of our community is 100% a team effort. This team includes local law enforcement like the San Benito County Sheriff’s Department and the Hollister Police Department, the Department of Justice, and many other agencies, but just as important, that effort includes you, the person who calls 911 because they see a driver meandering on the road, the witness who sees someone hurting someone else on the street, and the witness to an offense who doesn’t want to come forward but knows it is the right thing to do. When we all pull together to protect our community we can have quite an amazing place to live.
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