Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather outlined his office’s priorities for the year, after Charlotte recorded 107 homicides in 2019.
Wednesday's press conference was the first Merriweather has done specifically at the start of a new year to detail what priorities he would focus on. The district attorney listed four broad priorities, each with multiple parts to them. First, he committed to bringing 20 homicide cases to trial this year. That's up from 13 cases tried last year. Merriweather said he wanted to send a message to defedants that his office would commit to trying homicide cases.
The Mecklenburg District Attorney's office currently has 75 homicide defendants awaiting trial - many but not all of those are from 2019's record year of 107 homicides.
Another initiative Merriweather brought up was the idea of “community prosecution." Similar to the concept of "community policing," where police officers are stationed consistently in the same neighborhoods and develop relationships with the residents who live there. Merriweather gave some examples for how it could apply to prosecutors.
"Something as simple as, one day actually having prosecutors in offices in neighborhoods, it could mean mobile units, it could mean office hours in a church basement," Merriweather said.
Merriweather has been considering the idea for a while, and cited other counties like Santa Clara County in California as successful examples of community prosecution programs. He said he believed the idea would help people trust Mecklenburg County’s justice system -- both for defendants and victims involved in cases as well as those living in the neighborhoods that prosecutors would visit.
The Mecklenburg DA’s office would likely partner with other agencies, like the police, to pilot the program in a specific neighborhood. Charlotte Mecklenburg Police recently presented a study to city council showing "hotspots" around Charlotte that represent a disprorportionate amount of crime reports.
Merriweather also committed Wednesday to making the local court system more efficient. He mentioned speeding the handling of cases and screening out those that prosecutors don't believe they can bring to trial, especially for lower level felonies cases. He also called on the North Carolina legislature to change the statute governing how state judges can set cash bail.
Currently, state judges are required to set cash bail in most felony cases. There are a few exceptions, notably for defendants accused of first degree murder. Merriweather wants judges to be able to use preventative detention for other cases that involve violent offenses if they believe the defendant is dangerous. He cited judges in federal courts who already have that discretion.