Meck. County DA: Access To Deferred Prosecution No Longer Limited By Inability To Pay

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The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that they will offer a chance at deferred prosecution to qualifying defendants without first requiring a down payment.

According to a release, the change will help more first-time offenders have a chance at keeping their record clean, instead of punishing them simply because they lack financial resources. The DA’s Office says they will continue to work on securing restitution for victims of crimes however, by requiring that restitution be made to the victims over the course of the defendants’ roughly two years in the deferred prosecution program.

“By removing the monetary threshold for this program, we believe we can make a good program more equitable and accessible,” says DA Spencer Merriweather.

You can read more on the policy change and the deferred prosecution program here: Access To Deferred Prosecution No Longer Limited By Inability To Pay

Original Story

CHARLOTTE, NC — Local judges are fighting back against what they call an injustice in the criminal justice system.

They say hundreds are jailed every year because court fees are too high, punishing people because they are poor.

Some end up in jail for crimes that didn’t even call for jail.

“The vast majority of people who come into our courtrooms are poor,” said District Judge Elizabeth Trosch.

People end up in her courtroom for things like traffic violations and marijuana possession, misdemeanors that typically call for a fine.

There are also court fees that leave defendants begging for relief.

“Please, I just lost my apartment. Please, give me another chance please I just lost my job,” said Judge Trosch as she described the examples.

Here’s the break down:

$180 dollars for using the court, $250 for educational classes or community service, $600 for lab work, up to $60 for a court-appointed attorney and $55 an hour for their work.

If you can’t pay those fees, you could go to jail. You would have to serve some of what would be your sentence. Sentences for misdemeanors range from 20 to 150 days in jail.

That could mean loss of jobs, according to Judge Trosch. “Maybe your housing, possibly custody of your children,” she said.

She says 400 people were jailed last year in Mecklenburg County for not paying court costs.

“Now listen, if a person has the ability to pay, they ought to pay,” said Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer
Merriweather, III.

But he acknowledges the fees punish poor people more than others.

“It’s not just about defendants and their families, but it’s about just fairness in our system,” said Merriweather.

Lawmakers set the court costs.

The money funds agencies outside the court, like teacher retirement.

From 1995 to 2015, fees rose five times the rate of inflation, according to a University of North Carolina study.

“I think we all are in search of good solutions,” said Merriweather.

The solution to the problem took a change to state law.

Deputies no longer have to arrest people who can’t pay. Instead, those people go to court to discuss why they can’t pay.

Also, judges can hold ability to pay hearings. That’s where they can lower those expensive fees.

“This isn’t to say people who are poor and can’t pay shouldn’t experience consequences when they’ve committed and been convicted of a crime, but they shouldn’t experience loss of liberty,” said Judge Trosch.