Lancaster County’s two options for district attorney drew clear distinctions between themselves Tuesday night at a candidate debate hosted by LNP | LancasterOnline at The Ware Center in Lancaster.
During the hour long event before a live audience and broadcast to LancasterOnline viewers, Republican Heather Adams and Democrat Hobie Crystle made their cases as to why each of them is the better choice to be the county’s top prosecutor.
Here are four key points from the evening:
The differences became clear from the moment the candidates made their opening statements. Adams prioritized securing funding for the Lancaster County Drug Task Force, renewing the office’s commitment to fighting the heroin epidemic and pledging to create a school safety initiative. Crystle mentioned putting treatment ahead of punishment and ending cash bail for behavior that doesn’t threaten public safety.
Adams responded first that she is in favor of the death penalty in the most “heinous” cases, including the murder of a police officer or a child.
“I think there should be something more than life in prison for someone who so brutally takes the life of another human being,” she said.
As district attorney, Adams said she would create a panel of senior assistant district attorneys and investigators to review the circumstances of each case and applying those facts to the law to determine whether the penalty is appropriate.
Crystle said he is opposed to the death penalty in all cases.
“I don’t believe that it makes any sense for civilized society to kill someone to tell them that killing another person is wrong,” he said.
He also made an economic argument against the death penalty, saying it is a high cost for a sentence that is likely to never be carried out.
Civil asset forfeiture/drug task force
The debate’s moderators, from LNP, Millersville University and nonpartisan advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, asked multiple questions about civil asset forfeiture and the county’s drug task force.
Crystle said he believes the county needs to better fund the drug task force, which he said is critical to fighting drug-related crime. With more funding from the county, forfeiture funds could be used for drug treatment, he said.
As for transparency of how civil asset forfeiture would function under his leadership, Crystle said he would be as transparent as possible.
Adams said she would work with the county commissioners to reach a funding agreement to ensure the continuation of the drug task force and would ensure forfeitures are legal and funds are spent properly.
Citing a recent decision from Lancaster County Judge Leonard G. Brown III, Adams said she would abide by his ruling and plans to put her civil asset forfeiture records online, with appropriate redactions.
Crystle agreed with Adams on the release of records.
A key part of Crystle’s platform involves ending cash bail for those he said do not present a safety threat to the community. He made both an economic argument based on the cost of imprisonment and a moral one for putting people behind bars simply because they cannot pay, not because they are a danger.
Adams noted, however, that judges set bail, not district attorneys, although recommendations from the district attorney’s office on bail amounts are often followed by the judiciary.
A proposal that Adams mentioned several times was her intention to implement a more formal training process for new assistant district attorneys. She said she believes this would help with retention of employees and would foster the skills a prosecutor needs to be effective in the courtroom.