CHARLOTTE, N.C. — District Attorney Spencer Merriweather says he has a plan to tackle court cases that have accumulated after many courts closures in North Carolina due to coronavirus.
Under Merriweather’s plan there will be an internal shift of assignments that will add more prosecutors to his Violent Crimes and Homicide Teams, according to a news release.
DA Merriweather says two existing prosecution teams will be merged into one to focus on drug, property, and other general felonies. Merriweather’s plan will also ask prosecutors to focus more on violent offenses by moving simple drug cases outside of the court system to recovery agencies and other service providers.
Officials say these changes will be put into place by February 2021.
“While COVID-19 has presented challenges for our courts, we know the great anguish endured by victims and families who are awaiting justice,” says DA Merriweather. “Without a substantial change in our course of action after months of court closures, we are facing the very real possibility that it could take more than three years before some violent crimes make
their way to trial and even longer for homicide cases. That is unacceptable for victims, and it is unacceptable for the entire community. Today marks the beginning of a new path forward.”
State officials say the problem is judicial districts across North Carolina have been overwhelmed, and Mecklenburg County has the highest criminal case volume in the state.
While the District Attorney’s Office has tried to ensure court cases are handled in a timely manor, COVID-19 had added to the problem, causing a backlog in cases since many courts in the state have had to close to reduce the spread of the virus.
Felony trials have been placed on hold for over eight months, while crime across the state has increased, and DA Merriweather says this has stopped prosecutors’ ability to hold offenders accountable, according to a news release.
In Mecklenburg County around 700 defendants who have plead not guilty are still awaiting trial in Superior Court; with 100 defendants charged in homicides and 150 defendants charged in other violent crimes, according to a news release.
Officials with the District Attorney’s Office say even though Superior Court trials have resumed, they know public health demands and social distancing will make getting through the accumulated cases difficult.
DA Merriweather says his plan will refocus time and energy more efficiently so that these trials will occur in due time.
Merriweather says the existing Drug Team and Crimes Against Property Team will be replaced
with a new Felony Crimes Team of around a dozen trial prosecutors.
Merriweather says many prosecutors will be reassigned to increase the Violent Crimes Team by 50 percent, by adding more trial attorneys, and one more prosecutor will be added to help the Homicide Team.
Trial sessions scheduled for 2021 for the Drug team will be combined with the Crimes Against Property Team, so more prosecutors can focus on violent crimes.
“It’s time for us to employ new strategies and better focus our resources on the crimes that
most endanger our neighborhoods,” says DA Merriweather. “A change in our approach to drug possession cases will bolster our efforts to confront violent crime. It means we can get help for those who need help and stop those who need to be stopped. ”