McHenry County state's attorney hopefuls differ on trial strategies

It's a common scene - yet dramatic and almost expected - from television and the movies: A determined prosecutor confronts a defendant on the witness stand in front of a captivated jury.

In real life, such courtroom drama can be a rare occurrence - as well as a case actually going to trial.

Two candidates seeking the office of McHenry County state's attorney differ on their views of when, and how often, prosecutors should take a case to trial.

Republican Patrick Kenneally, 37, who has worked in the state's attorney's office since 2007, is first assistant and faces Democrat Ray Flavin, 55, a Woodstock defense attorney. The winner replaces Lou Bianchi, who is not seeking another four-year term.

Kenneally notes that in 2003, the year before Bianchi took office, there were just six jury trials held for felony cases. In 2014, there were more than 60 felony trials.

Kenneally said he believes prosecutors engage in enough negotiations before going to trial. He says the office has taken an "aggressive stance" in crimes such as reckless driving for a first-time DUI or disorderly conduct in a domestic battery case by not allowing a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

"If you don't like it, we're going to go to trial," Kenneally said. "Trying cases is critical."

Flavin contends the office is overstaffed, providing more incentive for prosecutors to take cases to trial to "make themselves busy." He says the sheer number of jury trials doesn't necessarily equate to success.

Flavin says prosecutors can use possible prison terms under state law - or the mere threat of a felony conviction - as leverage to arrive at a plea agreement that is fair to everyone.

"Jury trials are a breakdown of the criminal justice system. What you're doing is trying to arrive at a good disposition," Flavin said. "If we act like our batting record at trial is the most important thing, then we throw that out the window."

Kenneally and Flavin have differing plans to reduce costs and staffing the next four years. Kenneally said some defendants have unrealistic expectations in negotiation and the state's attorney's office needs adequate staffing to go to trial if necessary.

"If you don't have the bandwidth in your office (to go to trial if needed), defense attorneys will know that and will continue to push you go get unjust results," Kenneally said.

Early voting runs through Oct. 21 at the county clerk's office and Oct. 24 to Nov. 7 at various locations. The election is Nov. 8.

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