Meck County DA, CMPD chief sounding the alarm about prosecutor shortage

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - According to city officials, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief and the District Attorney, there's a major problem in the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office.

"We need to be more adequately funded in order to do the job the best that we can," DA Andrew Murray said.

The state is responsible for funding all district attorney offices. Some counties and cities supplement the state budget.

"I'm in need of prosecutors and courtrooms. We've been under-resourced, underfunded for a long, long time here at the DA's office and across the state," Murray said. "In our large population it continues to grow - I do not have enough prosecutors which means we have to triage all cases – we make tough decisions based on resources."

During a briefing on crime-fighting efforts, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told the Charlotte City Council's Community Safety Committee that the inadequate number of prosecutors does impact law enforcement.

"They need more people. They need more people. They're not staffed as a metropolitan city should from a prosecutorial standpoint. Not even close," Chief Putney said. "What we look for is the ability to try more cases thus get more convictions  - take care of the priority offenders we spoke about, the repeat offenders in a much more efficient way."

Murray says the state currently provides 58 prosecutors. With the population boom and high crime rate in Mecklenburg County, Murray estimates he needs 105 assistant district attorneys.

Mecklenburg County and Charlotte city officials have stepped in and supplemented an additional 27 prosecutors.

"If you look at any other major population that has a million, they have more than a hundred prosecutors and I have  - the state supplies 58 prosecutors. If it wasn't for the county and to a small part the city supplementing me with additional resources and DA's – 27 DA's – I could not do this job," Murray said. "We need more now even with the help from the county and the city."

Murray says prosecutors still go after violent criminals.

"Making sure that habitual offenders, those who commit violent crime are certainly held accountable and certainly taken care so this community is protected but a lot more lower level there's more that could be done if we had more resources."

The District Attorney says the shortage means his office has to make decisions about which cases to take to trial.

"Triage is looking at your cases and determining what's the most serious, what's not the most serious. With those that are not the most serious - giving them a lot lighter look, taking them and trying to handle them without using as much resources," he said. "We have to make decisions and that means some – especially mid-level crimes - are released or get out onto the streets quicker than I would prefer in some cases. That can have an impact especially if you have somebody that's prone to offend again and again."

Council member Julie Eiselt, who is the Chair of the Community Safety Committee, calls the shortage "financial resource inefficiency."

Eiselt says people need to pay attention to the issue in the DA's Office.

"A shortage of prosecutors means that the individuals that need to be taken off the streets aren't seeing their day in court so some people need to be taken off the streets," Eiselt said. "And some you need a prosecutor who can help divert that individual to other programming."

Murray says the lack of prosecutors has his office with glaring shortcomings.

"We have no white collar arm here in my office. We're a major, major banking center, financial center, and business center and we have no white collar arm here because I don't have enough DA's to do that," he said. "We should have it. We should be doing a lot more white collar but we don't have it."

"Domestic violence is an epidemic. I need more prosecutors in domestic violence."

"Our property team is churning and churning and churning. The property team has more than a 100 cases each per DA which is hard to get through and handle."

According to the DA, his office handles approximately 100,000 misdemeanors and infractions and 10,000 felonies a year.

Murray says there are ten prosecutors and a supervisor who work misdemeanor cases. Seventy-four prosecutors handle the other felonies.

"The state has never adequately funded the criminal justice system," Murray said. "We're one of the lower funded states in all of the U-S for the amount of the budget that goes to public safety. I think we have a history and culture and it needs to change at some point in time."

Even funding for the Mecklenburg County Courthouse is lagging.

I started 25 years ago as an Assistant DA and we had four criminal courts doing Superior Court doing criminal matters," Murray said. "Today, 25 years later, we have four criminal courts doing Superior Court matters. 25 years later our population has grown exponentially and we still have the same court set."

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