Hundreds of criminal cases dismissed in Mecklenburg Co. due to clerical error

WBTV Investigates: Court leaders won’t answer questions about why the problem hasn’t been fixed
Court records reveal more than 600 cases have been dismissed or postponed because of the problem since early August.
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 12:34 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Hundreds of criminal cases have been dismissed in Mecklenburg County because of a clerical error that has impacted cases for months.

The error has affected cases in private warrant court, which involves cases where one person goes to the magistrate and files criminal charges against another person.

Court records reveal more than 600 cases have been dismissed or, in some cases, postponed because of the problem since early August.

A review of records found more than 200 assault cases were dismissed, including more than 40 cases involving assault on a female, more than 15 assault by gunpoint cases and one case of an assault on a child under 12.

The reason for the dismissal noted next to each case on the court docket is that the prosecuting witness wasn’t there, the result of a clerical error that wasn’t properly notifying the victims who filed charges of when the case would be heard in court.

One victim impacted by the error is SharMel Hood.

Previous: Justice delayed for thousands as N.C. courts work to clear backlog

She took a warrant out against a family member who slammed her hand in a door, breaking it.

Unlike in many cases, Hood and the defendant were both in court but the case was dismissed anyways.

“Her attorney stood up and said, based on some administrative or clerical error, we moved for dismissal,” Hood recounted in an interview with WBTV.

“The judge turned to me and said, ‘I know it’s not fair but, unfortunately, we’re going to have to dismiss the case.’”

All that’s written on the court file for Hood’s case is “dismissed by court due to procedural error.”

The judge who dismissed Hood’s case is Chief District Judge Elizabeth Trosch.

Trosch agreed to answer questions about this problem, why it’s happened for months and what she is doing to address the issue. But, through a spokeswoman, Trosch cancelled the interview 30 minutes before it was supposed to take place.

Instead, Trosch sent a written statement.

“Any issues or concerns arising from the administration of cases in Private Warrant Court, including those noted in your inquiry, have been brought to the attention of court leadership, who are actively working together to resolve the issues.

The spokeswoman did not respond to follow-up questions and the statement did not explain why nothing had been done to address the underlying issues that caused the cases to be dismissed, even though the problem started in August and continued through October.

“I felt like the justice system was fractured,” Hood, the crime victim, said. “I didn’t even get to have my day in court.”

Previous: Transparency delayed as Mecklenburg Co. courts fail to schedule hearings on police video

The responsibility of prosecuting private warrant cases—including notifying victims of court dates—falls on prosecutors.

But, like Trosch, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather also refused to answer questions for this story.

And, in an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Merriweather claimed—incorrectly—that the problem only affected cases scheduled on two days of private warrant court.

Merriweather’s statement said the DA was working to address the problems but did not provide any details on when those efforts started or what, specifically, he was doing to correct the problem.

“The pandemic and subsequent labor shortages and resignations have dealt a major blow to every court agency in our district, which was already dramatically under-resourced considering it contains the highest case volume in North Carolina. Such staffing challenges often result in court employees having to undergo new training or taking on tasks in addition to their regular workloads. It’s a challenge that my own office knows too well. My office is committed to working with our court partners to ensure that Mecklenburg County courts operate at full functionality as we all share a common goal of service to our community.”

The cases in private warrant court that have been dismissed due to a clerical error are separate from the thousands of traffic cases that were accidentally dismissed earlier this year.

The recent problems in criminal court come after WBTV previously exposed a years-long backlog of cases to release police video and a case in which the public was illegally prevented from accessing a court proceeding.

Hood, the crime victim, wants court officials to take immediate steps to ensure future victims like her can have their day in court.

“I don’t know where the glitch is but there surely is one and it needs to be found because it’s affected people like me,” she said.