Charlotte defense attorney speaks about impact of court dismissals error

Earlier this month, the Meck. County DA's Office found that more than 16,000 charges were wrongly dismissed.
Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 7:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s now been more than a week since the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office announced that a computer error had led to 16,000 incorrectly dismissed charges.

While the district attorney’s office said it took immediate action to correct the error, Charlotte defense attorney Mark Jetton said some defendants are still left wondering whether their charges have been dropped.

The district attorney’s office first sent out a public statement about the error on Wednesday, October 5.

The statement noted that the district attorney’s office had been working with the state Administrative Office of Courts to dismiss a number of low-level misdemeanor cases, along with some traffic cases. The district attorney’s office noted that it was doing this to curb the huge case backlogs they have in district court, but in late September they learned that 16,000 charges were erroneously dismissed.

Jetton spoke to WBTV in an interview Thursday, explaining how the court error has impacted some of the people he represents.

“These are folks who have been waiting years to get their cases back into court and now they’ve been notified by their lawyer or whoever has been representing them, ‘Hey, your case is now dismissed.’ and then you get back and say, ‘Well, I know we told you it’s dismissed, well, it’s not gonna be dismissed now,’ so it’s just beyond frustrating for many individuals, lawyers, everybody that’s involved,” explained Jetton.

The attorney said he has been telling his clients that their charges have technically been dismissed, but it’s unclear if the charges will be reinstated.

“That’s the frustrating thing,” said Jetton. “You’ve got these clients that are just continuing to be in limbo.”

Jetton noted that Mecklenburg County courts have already been backed up with pending cases because of shutdowns during the pandemic and now the dismissals error is just adding to the backlog.

District Attorney Spencer Merriweather previously spoke to WBTV about correcting the issue.

“I have been in frequent contact with the director of the administrative office of the courts. They have been extremely responsive in doing everything they can to fix the problem with their computer system and to get these cases reinstated,” said Merriweather.

Jetton said defense attorneys with reinstated cases will likely challenge the reinstatement in court.

“Someone’s gonna make an argument when you get to court in front of a judge, ‘Is this allowed?’” explained Jetton. “I think all the defense attorneys are gonna do it.”

He said he is hoping the district attorney’s office will be transparent as it attempts to notify defendants about charges being reinstated.

“They’re gonna have to be overly understanding of the defendants who’ve been affected by this in the notice. What can’t happen is you’ve now got someone’s case who’s been dismissed and they give a court date and they set a court date without an abundance of caution of notice going to the person who’s been charged,” Jetton elaborated.

Meghan McDonald, the community liaison coordinator for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, said that erroneous entries in 300 impaired driving offenses have already been corrected. She said it is her understanding that the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is still working to correct the remaining erroneous entries.

McDonald said the district attorney’s office is working with AOC staff to try to identify contact information for defendants or their attorneys impacted by the erroneous entries. She said that process will take some time, and there is not a timeline for when that will be accomplished.