BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Wes Hatcher (R) is running for State Attorney in the 14th judicial circuit against prosecutor Larry Basford (R).

Who is Wes Hatcher?

Hatcher lives in Panama City Beach with his wife Alana and their four children, ages 3, 8, 10 and 14.

He said they are active in the united Methodist church.

Hatcher coaches little league football, soccer and baseball.

He said he moved to Bay County for a job with the public defender’s office under Herman Laramore. He’s worked as a criminal defense attorney for the public defender’s office as an assistant public defender and in private criminal defense for a private firm. He has also worked in family law and on civil cases.

He worked as an assistant state attorney in Bay County prosecuting federal cases and has managed offices in Chipley, Bonifay, Panama City and Marianna.

“I believe that gives me a unique experience as far as seeing different things from different perspectives,” Hatcher said. “In civil law, if you’re the plaintiff, you have to put forth the case, as a prosecutor you have to put for the case, and as a defense attorney you have to defend.”

What made you want to get into law?

“As a little boy I used to watch law shows,” Hatcher said. “My family didn’t know why I used to watch them but they always intrigued me.”

Hatcher said that being a lawyer is something that he’s wanted to do his whole life. He also has degrees in history and has always liked reading up on past cases and the things that we did to get where we are today.

As a defense attorney, what do you think needs to change in our criminal justice system?

Hatcher said that one of the main things considered during a case is whether or not someone is being justly accused or prosecuted. He said that, for the most part, he said he thinks the system does a good job of determining this, and added there is always room for effective change.

“Suspending driver’s licenses for misdemeanor marijuana possession seems like a steep penalty for a crime that there’s arguments to whether or not we can proceed on that.”

“The other thing is making sure our system runs effectively and efficiently and move cases along in a more effective manner.”

Can marijuana be prosecuted under Florida law?

Technically, yes, Hatcher said. Florida Statue 898 prohibits the possession of marijuana so it is still lawful to be prosecuted.

But traditional methods of identifying marijuana products (i.e. the smell or look) is very similar to that of hemp products, which are legal, he said.

“What we’re really looking at is, how do we prove, besides someone admitting it, that what we’re dealing with is actually marijuana?” Hatcher said.

FDLE tests are expensive, he added. He said he thinks we should instead find more effective things to devote those resources to including crimes against people — human trafficking, batteries, sex crimes, burglaries or safety issues.

What are you views on police reform?

“We need to make sure that all the officers have body cams that work,” Hatcher said. This would both put a check on the officers and produce footage for training purposes, he said.

“We need to change the way we pay our officers,” Hatcher said, using the same argument that has been seen with teachers: if we don’t pay law enforcement enough, how can we expect to keep the best officers on?

Why are you running for state attorney’s office?

“I’m running for state attorney’s office because I love our judicial system, and more importantly because I believe in our judicial system.”

“I believe that our community should have a voice in the administration of justice. When you control the administration of justice, that’s among the most important things that our government does for our people, is basically control that way that justice gets distributed.

“I want to make sure that all the members of our community have a voice in that process.”

Hatcher said he believes in a more hands-off approach to leadership, giving his staff the opportunity to learn, grow and use their own expertise.

“Under my administration, I would give my assistant state attorneys the tools to look at each case and to be able to decide what to do with each of their cases based on the merits of their case and not based on any sort of blanket policies.”

He said he would also like to focus on major crimes against people as a way to make the community safer, including the eradication of human trafficking.

Hatcher said he anticipates used technology, web-based programs or apps, to create a more transparent office, especially for witnesses and victims.

“I’m 15 years deep into my career but I feel like I’m just getting started.”

What is the most important case you’ve been a part of?

  • Adoption work; bringing a child and a family together
  • innocent criminal case that was acquitted

Prosecutors need to review their cases and make appropriate charges, he said. In a situation involving law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and law enforcement would need to work together to gather all the evidence and make the proper charges, he added.

“We need to make sure a. our citizens are taken care of and that the people who break the law are held accountable,” Hatcher said. “And under my office, when you break the law, you’re going to be held accountable.”

Meet the other candidates running for office this year.