DA says major trial delays could happen if Mecklenburg Co. loses assistant prosecutor position

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) -Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather is trying to make change when it comes to the state budget.

The Senate just passed their version of the budget. If it becomes final, it would take away one assistant district attorney from Mecklenburg County.

DA Merriweather already says they didn’t have enough attorneys in the first place. He says if this decision passes, the families of victims are going to be hugely impacted.

DA Merriweather thinks COVID-19 might have a 5 -10 year impact on the court system causing a massive backlog of criminal cases, including some of our most violent ones, where victim’s families have already been waiting years for justice.

He says now more than ever they need every resource possible from the state.

“It’s about whether or not were going to do what we need to do to invest in justice, and North Carolina is falling short,” said DA Merriweather.

He says it’s a question the North Carolina Senate has already answered.

Merriweather says if the state budget passes as is, the Mecklenburg County’s DA office will from 58 state-funded attorneys to 57.

It may be just one position, but DA Merriweather says the decision will impact hundreds of cases.

“They have 900 cases amongst them. That can amount to almost 110 violent crimes for each prosecutor,” Merriweather said. “That’s 110 victims, that’s 110 neighborhoods. That’s 110 communities that are impacted by the kind of decision that just got made by our senate budget.”

Merriweather says this change in staffing could also impact the growing backlog in violent crime cases.

Right now, there are 110 homicide cases, 120 special victims’ cases, 175 violent crime cases and hundreds of other cases all awaiting trial.

”I know I’m in a situation right now where we have families of homicide victims that are having to wait 3, 4, 5 years for their case to come to trial,” Merriweather said. “For folks to take resources away and stretch out that time. It’s nothing more than cruel.”

WBTV asked a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger to explain the cut, even as the state has a revenue surplus of millions of dollars.

His spokesman directed us to Senator Danny Britt, from Lumberton, who chairs the budget committee that made the cut.

In his statement, he asked, “should state funding help out the rich counties that can take care of themselves, or the poor counties that can’t? I come down on the side of the poor counties.”

Currently, the DA’s office operates with 58 states funded district attorneys.

They have an extra 26 partially funded attorneys thanks to the city and county budget help for a total of 84 attorneys.

Merriweather says national guidelines say for a county as big as ours, should have at least 110 attorneys on staff.

Senator Britt’s full statement is as follow:

I think the larger context here is that Mecklenburg County is one of the wealthiest in the entire state. By comparison, my district is the poorest and also has the highest rate of violent crime. It comes down to this question: Should state funding help out the rich counties that can take care of themselves, or the poor counties that can’t? I come down on the side of the poor counties. Also, Mecklenburg County does have local funding that provides funding for Assistant DA’s that other districts do not have. This is because they are not as wealthy.”

This budget is not the final budget. The NC House first has to present its budget and vote on it.

Then the NC House and the NC Senate will come together to negotiate the budget before sending it to Governor Cooper for final approval.

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