Taking Rapists Off The Streets: The Challenges Of Getting A Guilty Verdict

CHARLOTTE, NC — States consider sexual assaults and rapes the most serious crimes after murder, and getting a guilty verdict in those cases is challenging.

WCCB Charlotte’s Courtney Francisco investigated how successful Mecklenburg County is at taking rapists off the streets.

It can be a traumatizing process for survivors. Meeting with District Attorney Spencer Merriweather, you quickly learn, it is one of the most difficult cases for prosecutors, too.

“You’re not going to have a lot of sexual assaults that have third-party witnesses,” said Merriweather.

To get more guilty verdicts, the DA created a special victims team with nine seasoned attorneys trained to work with trauma survivors.

“We create a supportive environment for victims, our cases get that much stronger because they feel they feel as if they can offer more facts and more details,” said Merriweather.

He says Charlotte churches, schools, communities need to create a culture where survivors feel believed. so victims report faster and doctors and police can obtain more evidence.

To help victims report faster, the DA wants to create a family justice center.

That would be one location you could go get help from police, medical examines, financial help, help with child care, all with one advocate in one location.

“Where she doesn’t have to keep repeating her story over and over again,” said Merriweather.

The county has a sexual assault response team with nurses, prosecutors, investigators, advocates that meet monthly.

“We can understand that it can be a scary process,” said Carmen Crape with Safe Alliance.

Safe Alliance is a non-profit that is part of that team.

“The goal, honestly, is to have that survivor feel empowered,” said Crape. “If you’re having a victim or survivor that, at any point in time, feels supported and cared for, then that goes a long way.”

Merriweather says this is the type of case that will always have certain challenges. However, he says you can let the courtroom be an avenue to take power away from your attacker.

“I have seen some amazingly strong women, more often than not, so many women who have overcome each and every one of those challenges,” said Merriweather.

WCCB Charlotte tried to get a sense of the conviction rate in our county. That number does not exist at this time due to aging computer systems and lack of employees.

We know approximately 15 people ended up in jail in 2018 for sexual assaults and rapes, according to the criteria we chose on the NC Department of Public Safety website.

To choose your criteria, click here.