CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Every week, CMPD holds a press conference and more times than not, reporters get to ask Chief Putney directly about the increase in crime and what CMPD is doing about it. So now it’s time for the other parts of the criminal justice system to respond and for them to hopefully provide a solution.
The District Attorney’s office is one of those cogs in the criminal justice machine.
District Attorney Spencer Merriweather says one of the most unsettling things he’s seen this year is the amount of teenagers and young adults pulling triggers to solve an argument. He said each crime scene is personal for the prosecutors who work in his office, saying they go into this line of work to better their community, but there are obstacles the District Attorney’s office faces.
“Our issue right now is everyone is asking us," said Chief Kerr Putney. "Why do we have to keep arresting the same violent people? You should be asking other people who determine who gets out of jail who determine when cases move forward.”
“When you have people who committed crimes and then do things over and over again, they demonstrate a willingness to violate the peace of this community," said DA Merriweather.
Adrien Threatt turned 23 this week while sitting in jail awaiting trial on 22 charges related to an armed robbery in September. He’s an example of a repeat offender police arrest over and over again.
In the fall of 2018, he was arrested and charged with previous robbery charges and other violent offenses. All of those cases were dismissed. And then police say he went on to do it again.
According to our news partners at the Charlotte Observer, 68 percent of Mecklenburg prosecutors dismissed weapon charges from 2014 through 2018.
“Our intent is to hold a dangerous person accountable. So we want to make sure we have the evidence that we need," said Merriweather explaining one of the challenges his office faces.
The DA explained that cases have to have enough evidence for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime. He said even sometimes with surveillance and a witness willing to testify, it still isn’t enough to bring someone to trial.
“We also have an ethical obligation not to just try it when we think we have evidence missing, critical evidence missing," said Merriweather.
Another challenge is people refusing to participate in the process. When police make an arrest, witnesses on the scene may help police with information on what happened assisting police in making an arrest. But the DA says those same witnesses then must testify to get a conviction.
Merriweather said with Charlotte’s growing size, plus the longer waits for trial dates in Mecklenburg County, witnesses can get lost in the shuffle. Merriweather explains witnesses either refuse to show up or change their story on the stand out of fear, which affects the outcome of the case.
“When we have the law and the evidence is one on our side, the public should have every expectation that that’s exactly what we’ll do,” said Merriweather. “When we can’t prosecute those folks, it’s because we cannot meet our standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That makes it all harder.”
DA Merriweather said the prosecutors working in the DA’s office have upwards of 100 cases in their caseloads and only three court rooms to try those cases.
But before a case can even get to trial, the suspect appears in court for a bond hearing. Chief Putney has criticized magistrates saying they release violent offenders far too easily on low bonds. The court system declined to comment for this story.
So is there a solution? This year alone, Charlotte is nearing 100 homicides.
“To impact the scourge of violent crime, it can’t be something that just happens at the court house, we have to figure out ways to really touch our young people so our 16-year-olds aren’t picking up a gun and shooting another one,” said Merriweather. “That means everyone’s gotta chip in and do their part to change the trajectory of where were heading as a community. This has got to get better.”
The district attorney’s office did say in that interview, they’ve tried more murder cases than any other county in the state and they’ve prosecuted more than 95 habitual felon cases this year.