Pelt and Olsen Faceoff
– August 9, 2011 8:30 am
Stafford, Va. – A Commonwealth Attorneys candidates’ debate unveiled who wants to change the system and which candidate is proud of the office’s accomplishments.
Republican candidates Eric Olsen, current Assistant Commonwealth Attorney in Stafford County, and defense attorney Jason Pelt squared off Monday night at the Stafford County Government Center. Both are vying to lead the county’s prosecutor’s office and at issue were the county’s heavy reliance on jury trials, it’s described low, utopian-like crime rate, and the importance of keeping or changing course in an office held for 40 years by now retiring Daniel Chichester.
“I have found that juries are the best arbiter of justice, better than any other system that I’ve been exposed to. We’re fortunate in Stafford to have
excellent juries, and I’ve been involved in several cases: if the evidence isn’t there the jury is not going to find you guilty. But if the evidence is there and we’ve if proven our case, if we’ve shown the defendant to be guilty then the jury will find them guilty and issue a fair and just punishment,” said Olsen
Olsen has worked in Stafford’s prosecutor’s office for 22 years and, in 2008, unsuccessfully ran for Commonwealth Attorney in Fredericksburg. Pelt, a Marine Corps officer and JAG Corps lawyer, says the county wastes money by holding jury trials for felony crimes.
“A shoplifter who steals $250 worth of merchandise does not need a jury, here’s why, that’s not to say he doesn’t have a right to a jury, hear me, every defendant has a constitution right to a jury. But Virginia is unique in the fact that also the government has a chance to have a jury. When the commonwealth says they want a jury, chi-ching, $2,000 is costs to get a jury in there,” said Pelt.
On the heels of Stafford County being awarded grant funding to combat gang activity, Pelt says Stafford Sheriff Charles E.
Jett is on the right course to curbing gang activity but he needs to work with neighboring counties to get the job done.
“Stafford is not a bubble, and gangs don’t understand jurisdictional lines, so Stafford County has to be able to work with its local partners in crime prevention, and that means going to Fredericksburg, going to Spotsylvania County and Prince William and that’s something that this county does not do well,” said Pelt.
Olsen fired back, saying Stafford is immune to many gang problems experienced in surrounding areas.
“We’re a bubble of safety, we’re an oasis when all around us things are going badly. Prince William County never got ahead of the game as far as gangs, and by the time they started reacting the gang problem got out of control and remains out of control…the criminals know what we have in Stafford. They know we have good law enforcement and they know we have good prosecution,” said Olsen.
Olsen’s residency has also become an issue in this campaign, as those elected to serve must live in the jurisdiction they represent. Olsen moved to garage apartment in Stafford County in March and is working to sell his single-family home in Fredericksburg.
“When Daniel Chichester finally made that decision [to retire] my house went up for sale, it has not yet sold, but when it is sold I will be able to afford a house in Stafford County. Right now, I can’t afford two homes. I rent an apartment, I’m there every night, I get conjugal visits with my wife every now and then, and when we sell our house our entire family will be living in Stafford County,” said Olsen.
Pelt says the Marine Corps brought him to Stafford County in 2000 and has lived there ever since.
Voters will go to the polls Aug. 23 for a Primary Election to decide which candidate will appear on the ballot for the general election on Nov. 8.