On the Issues
Focus on Victims & Witnesses
As Middlesex District Attorney, Donna will use all available resources to assist and protect victims and witnesses.
Too often, the current administration at the Middlesex DA’s Office has failed to prioritize the needs of victims. In the last four fiscal years, despite having more than $650,000 available in funding from the Commonwealth’s Witness Protection Program, the current administration has made only two claims amounting to a shockingly low amount of $1,900 each - less than one-half of one percent of the total funds available. This failure to procure resources on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our community, particularly for those victims of domestic violence, must change.
Donna is dedicated to increasing trust between our immigrant communities and police — because cooperation is essential to law enforcement. As District Attorney, she will work to support sanctuary cities and protect the Fourth Amendment rights of all residents. Because legal proceedings can affect the status of immigrants, Donna will put procedures in place to be sure case decisions and prosecutorial policy is equitable for all our communities.
Sentencing & Bail Reform
Over the past decades, at untold costs to communities of color, we have spent too long learning the same lesson: mandatory minimums make us less safe. Donna will advocate for the repeal of mandatory sentences and for the adoption of sentencing guidelines. During sentencing, identifying mitigating and aggravating circumstances that affect the disposition must be part of the conversation. Until sentencing reforms are in place, Donna will lead an office of prosecutors trained to approach sentencing ethically and equitably, with a review of cases where mandatory minimums are charged when lesser charges may apply.
Right now, we have no data to assess the decisions made by prosecutors – whether the kid in Lowell gets the same fair treatment as the kid in Weston. Effective innovation is simply impossible to do without the data, including collecting data on the equitable use of bail recommendations and plea negotiations. To fund the technology needed to support more proactive, intelligence-based prosecution, Donna will work with state legislators. She also will collaborate with academic researchers and public policy think tanks to collect and analyze data to objectively draw conclusions to develop equitable and smart prosecutions practices.
Since 2013, pretrial incarceration in Middlesex County has increased by 110%. The only person responsible for that increase is the District Attorney. People held pretrial are not eligible for services and treatment programs, and often lose critical footholds while being held -- they may lose a job or an apartment, essentially serving a sentence before their day in court. We must end the use of cash bail. People should not be incarcerated solely because of an inability to pay.
Read More from the Vera institute
Transparency in Discovery
Prosecutors have certain obligations - by rule, law, and under the Constitution - of what material they must provide to defendants prior to trial. You’ll hear attorneys refer to this as Brady material, after the 1963 Supreme Court case that started to define these obligations. Donna embraces an expansive view of discovery. She will lobby for a statute for “Presumptive Discovery” - creating a presumption that a prosecutor shall turn over all material to defendants unless there a legal reason to withhold it. Transparency in the courtroom results in fair and just prosecutions.
Prosecutors may need to make exceptions for disclosures that could endanger witnesses or compromise on-going investigations, but those exceptions will be applied only with the approval of a supervising attorney not personally involved in prosecuting the case. And this disclosure policy will apply in all cases, not just cases that go to trial. Until the statute is passed, under Donna’s leadership, Middlesex County will follow Presumptive Discovery, a Brady policy much more expansive than the Constitutional and ethical requirements.
As she did when she served as Chief of Professional Ethics & Integrity, Donna will build a meaningful conviction integrity program in Middlesex County, to review claims of actual innocence to be sure that justice has been done in every single case. Donna also will dedicate staff to objectively examine adverse decisions happening today, learning from missteps and near misses to improve concrete guidelines for prosecutors, to learn from these cases.
The goal of meaningful review is to ensure justice is done and to build a culture of compliance, one where prosecutors continue to learn and grow.
Transparency in Use of Force Investigations
Over the course of her career, Donna has worked closely with law enforcement partners, whether at homicide scenes, in the courtroom, or in the classroom. She respects our public servants, quality professionals who respect the rights of the public. Claims that this authority has been abused must be investigated with honesty and transparency. Donna will implement a process to investigating use of force with independence, accountability, and professional competence. She will assign these cases to the most experienced, respected, and objective members of her staff, and work directly with them to make charging decisions based solely on the law and the facts. The investigation will be conducted with transparency and the results provided to the community, to ensure just inquiries.
Expand Community-Based Restorative Justice Programs
As Middlesex District Attorney, Donna will encourage the use restorative justice alternatives for victims and for offenders with mitigating circumstances, particularly in juvenile cases. Donna is dedicated to expanding existing programs because restorative justice provides a valuable process where victims are heard and understood and offenders take responsibility for harm, with the support of loved ones and community members. Restorative Justice has real impact on recidivism rates and the expansion of programs must be part of criminal justice reform.
Building a Culture of Compliance & Promote Professional Development
Under Donna's leadership, assistant district attorneys will be measured by how scrupulous they are in honoring constitutional rights, how thoughtful they are in crafting fair plea bargains, and how measured they are in exercising their prosecutorial discretion.
This culture change will be a priority accomplished in part by borrowing compliance practices from other fields, developing a culture where accountability is embraced from the highest levels down. Donna will seek 360-degree feedback from judges, defense attorneys, witnesses, and victims about how her prosecutors are doing, so she can promote a culture of continuous professional development in the office.