Bexar County District Attorney candidates Joe Gonzales and Marc LaHood answer your questions ahead of Nov. 8 election

Marc LaHood is challenging incumbent Joe Gonzales in the Nov. 8 election

SAN ANTONIOGet more election news on KSAT’s Vote 2022 page.

An elected district attorney has an important role in not only prosecuting criminals but representing and protecting crime victims.

The district attorney represents the state in prosecuting felony criminal cases and works with law enforcement in investigations.

It’s the job of the DA’s office to present cases to a grand jury that will decide whether there is enough evidence to indict a suspected criminal. The DA’s office also represents victims of violence in protective orders and represents the state in removing children from abusive households.

To qualify for the position, a candidate must be a practicing attorney or judge and once elected, he or she will serve a four-year term.

The current Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales was elected in 2019 after defeating the incumbent Nico LaHood.

Gonzales, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, now faces off with Nico’s brother — Republican Marc LaHood in the Nov. 8 election. LaHood is an attorney and a partner of the family-run firm LaHood Law that specializes in criminal defense, personal injury law, probate issues and family law.

Gonzales’ challenges over the last four years include a growing backlog in domestic violence cases as well as communication issues between prosecutors and law enforcement, leading to delays in at least one high-profile murder case.

He touts the county’s cite-and-release program as one of his successes, which LaHood has spoken out against.

Gonzales and LaHood also have different philosophies on the state’s criminal abortion statutes.

“My obligation is to seek justice,” Gonzales said during a June press conference. “There is no justice in prosecuting women for their own medical decisions.”

“If someone is voluntarily seeking out this treatment, they shouldn’t be worried about being prosecuted,” Gonzales said.

In a debate at San Antonio College in September, LaHood said he would enforce the statutes.

“The law is clear,” he said. “We don’t want our law enforcement to pick and choose what laws to enforce based on their personal beliefs.”

You can watch that full debate on the San Antonio Reports’ YouTube page.

As the election gets closer, we wanted to know what questions you have for the candidates that could help you make your decision at the polls.

We received about 40 questions and narrowed them down to six that we asked the candidates to answer.

You can see the viewers’ questions and the candidates’ unedited responses below:

Q: Would you prosecute individuals that violate a law that you don’t agree with? Should everyone be held to laws put in place by legislators?

Gonzales: “I took an oath to uphold the constitution. Additionally, the Texas Penal Code indicates that the primary duty of District Attorneys is not to seek convictions, but inst to see that justice is done. It is a policy that my office reviews every case filed by law enforcement. With that said, I see no justice in prosecuting women for making reproductive health decisions, and I will use prosecutorial discretion to stand with women and their doctors.”

LaHood: “Yes. We have a separation of powers: our legislatures are elected to create the laws, and our judiciary are supposed to enforce those laws—not to make laws of their own. This applies to elected officials like the District Attorney just as much as it does to appointed officials like police officers. There is a frightening trend to pick and choose what we enforce or ignore based on our personal opinions. Choosing to ignore a law in the books is no different than enforcing a law that’s NOT on the books. Both are unconstitutional and illegal. Politics doesn’t belong in the Justice system. We need to focus on the charge, the evidence, and the history of the defendant.”

Q: What can be done to stop gang/cartel Crime and shootings?

Gonzales: “While much of the burden of crime prevention and mitigation of gang violence falls on law enforcement agencies, there are strategies within the District Attorney’s office that we currently practice to address gang violence, crime, and gun violence. First, with limited prosecutors and resources, we must make tough decisions on what we prioritize – which is why my office prioritizes the prosecution of violent crime over the jailing of people over the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Second, to address gun violence we do everything we can to get guns off the streets, including destroying guns used in crime that are seized in successful prosecution so they can’t be used in future crimes, and advocating for meaningful gun reform.”

LaHood: “The DA only has the authority to enforce the laws within their county jurisdiction, so it’s essential to cooperate closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. But today, we have a District Attorney who refuses to coordinate with these agencies, so we’re playing catch-up on public safety. I will foster strong, proactive communication with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and work with them, not against them, to make Bexar County safer for everyone.”

Q: Will either of these candidates support the families of homicide victims who don’t want a plea deal? My family wasn’t given a choice.

Gonzales: “As District Attorney, I employ victim advocates and prosecutors who communicate with victims of crimes and/or their families and take their wishes into consideration when resolving a case.”

LaHood: “Victims’ wishes should always be a central factor in how we resolve a pending criminal case. Every guilty party should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, and every victim should be able to trust that their Justice system is focused on making them as a whole as humanly possible. In a perfect world, we would always be able to fully accomplish both of these goals. In practice, there is a balance between the two because of the timelines of pending trials and the availability of the courts.

“My oath to Bexar County is that I will improve the communication between the District Attorney’s office and the victims’ families. We must ensure that families are kept apprised of the status and issues of their cases. My other promise is that Justice will never be sold for a political agenda or to avoid bad publicity. In each case, we will be guided by the charge, the evidence, and the history of the defendant.”

Q: Will prosecution of law enforcement be prioritized when the crimes that they commit are so egregious?

Gonzales: “Our justice system should treat everyone equally, and nobody should be above the law. In my office, we have prosecuted members of law enforcement when they commit crimes. We are currently prosecuting several cases alleging excessive use of force by a peace officer. In my first term, I created the County’s first ever Civil Rights Division in the District Attorney’s Office to ensure accountability of law enforcement. This unit empowers a team of an independent prosecutor, investigator, and victim’s advocate to monitor the police scene, assess all evidence filed by law enforcement, meet with the family of the victim, and ensure that these cases go to a Grand Jury for further independent review.”

LaHood: “It doesn’t matter what predicate we put before ‘commit a crime.’ Just as everyone who commits a crime must be held accountable— whether they are an elected official, a law enforcement officer, or any other citizen—every law on the books must be enforced without prejudice. I promise Justice will never be sidelined for politics or an agenda. We will seek Justice in every case using the same standards: the charge, evidence, and history. Justice for all or Justice for none.”

Q: How would you continue, modify, or abandon 1), “Cite and Release Diversion Policy,” and 2) “Policy on the Prosecution of Abortion Cases”?

Gonzales: “Cite and release is a successful program–in coordination with law enforcement–that helps save taxpayer resources and the time and resources of law enforcement by giving officers discretion in the field to choose whether to issue a citation or arrest regarding certain eligible non-violent, minor offenses. With this program, over 6,000 people have avoided being arrested, saving the County $5 million dollars and freeing up law enforcement to pursue the crimes that our neighbors have asked us to prioritize: violent crime, drug trafficking, gun violence, and domestic violence. It’s important to note the data shows that people reoffend less when they complete the cite and release diversion program. Regarding abortion, the only policy we have on the books is that prosecutors in my office cannot accept and file cases involving abortion without the expressed approval of the District Attorney. I will fulfill my obligation to review every case submitted to my office by law enforcement, however as stated above, I see no justice in prosecuting women for making reproductive health decisions, and I will use prosecutorial discretion to stand with women and their doctors.”

LaHood: “Actions must have consequences. If we take away consequences and accountability, our behavior doesn’t get better: it gets worse. No crime is ‘small’ when it happens to you or your family, and tolerating supposedly ‘small’ crimes only leads to more ‘big’ crimes.

“The legal and law enforcement professionals I work with every day all agree that the Cite and Release program is plagued by a lack of accountability and is prone to conferring preferential treatment without evaluating the history and evidence of the crime. Justice is blind only if Justice is applied equally to all.

“Any law will be evaluated as every case and law will be: based on the charge, evidence, and history. If the legislature repeals or modify the law, then I will enforce their repeal or modification. It’s a terrifying trend to empower and encourage our law enforcement officers to pick and choose what laws they enforce based on their personal beliefs.”

Q: Will marijuana cases be prosecuted in Bexar County? If so, what amount would state pursue? What about small amounts of Penalty Group 1 drugs?

Gonzales: “To be clear, there is no blanket policy in my office regarding drugs. Every crime is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Under the current declination policy, trace amounts of drugs, under a quarter of a gram, are not prosecuted unless the individual is a danger to the community or the drug is fentanyl. With respect to marijuana, the current policy is to not prosecute under an ounce of marijuana, unless the individual poses a danger to the community.”

LaHood: “My office will enforce all drug laws, including the laws against Penalty Group 1 Drugs. Marijuana is currently illegal. Prosecutorial discretion is only discretion when it’s based on the facts, evidence , and history. Once you refuse to enforce a generic charging classification, you’re not exercising prosecutorial discretion: you’re making new laws.

“Additionally, it is worth noting that PG1 drugs include heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, and crack cocaine. These are the most addictive and deadly drugs. Over 40% of drugs confiscated are laced with fentanyl or contain trace amounts of fentanyl, so any decision to neglect the enforcement of laws against PG1 drugs would ignore dangerously addictive drugs that are doing great damage to our community.

“The notion that we are helping addicts by refusing to enforce drug laws is wrong. Addicts need help. Rejecting their cases only allows and encourages them to keep using drugs. My uncle was a heroin addict who ultimately died from his addiction. Addicts are drowning, and if we refuse to enforce the drug laws we are standing by the pool, watching them drown, and doing nothing.”

Read more on KSAT’s Vote 2022 page

About the Author

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.

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