The Durham County District Attorney serves the entire Durham Community. Below you will
find what I consider to be the most important issues facing the citizens of Durham and the
Durham County District Attorney’s Office.
Traditionally, the District Attorney’s office has been focused only on obtaining convictions for violations of the law, whether minuscule or egregious. If elected, I will shift the practice of
strictly seeking convictions to one seeking appropriate consequences for actions. This can be achieved by expanding deferrals and diversions for minor crimes, creating and implementing a Veteran’s Courts, expanding the reach of the resources of our mental health and substance abuse
treatment programs, accepting community service in lieu of guilty pleas, and by embracing education and other alternatives to traditional consequences. Convictions carry lifelong collateral consequences which impact job searches, access to education, student loans, housing, and many other benefits and resources. Not to mention, individuals who leave the Durham area may be forced to “Check the Box.” The goal of the District Attorney’s office first and foremost is to serve Justice. Sometimes Justice requires a conviction. But many times, Justice is better served by alternatives to conviction.
I believe there is a place for Restorative Justice in Durham County. Restorative Justice is premised on the basic principle that the victim of crime, the offender, and community stakeholders are all affected by a criminal action. As such, they all share an interest in the outcome of a criminal case. Using restorative practices encourages a dialogue between these parties in an effort to correct and reform the source of the conflict and, often, to arrive at an outcome acceptable to all. Restorative Justice practices may seem like a new concept But they’re not. Rather, these approaches seem new because District Attorneys across the State and the United States have been hesitant to adopt these approaches. It’s time Durham begins to embrace these concepts. As District Attorney, I will allow and encourage restorative circle meetings and victim-offender meetings—particularly where the crime is appropriate for alternative outcomes and the parties involved are freely interested in discussing the case outside the court room
Implicit Racial Bias / Racial Equity
It is clear that there is implicit racial bias in our justice system. What’s more, they affect many corners of our public education system, resulting in the disproportionate presence of young
African Americans in our juvenile justice system. These biases, both implicit need to be recognized, addressed, corrected, and eliminated. If elected, I will require staff from the District
Attorney’s Office to undergo racial equity training. I will also advocate for Judges, law enforcement, and others, to participate in this training so that we can all work together to address
All too often victims of crimes feel that they are ignored by the system. We need to make sure that the District Attorney’s office maintains appropriate communication with victims so they are
informed of upcoming court dates, included in the trial process, and given notice and ability to review proposed resolutions in their case. If elected, I will make sure Durham’s Assistant District
Attorneys reach out to victims early in the judicial process, keep them informed as their cases progress through our court system, and evaluate their input into the proposed resolutions to the
We have too many people incarcerated in the Durham County Jail simply because they are poor. Bonds serve two primary purposes: to ensure attendance at future court dates and, in some cases, to protect the public and victims from potential future conduct. Far too often, individuals remain locked up simply because they do not have the financial resources to post the $100 it costs to get out. No justice can be served under such conditions. I will work with our Judges and CJRC to implement a revised bond schedule and eliminate secured bonds below $5,000 for non-violent offenses and offenses without individual victims needing protection. We need to make sure individuals are not detained simply because of a lack of financial resources.
Supporting Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment
Durham County has had a specialized drug treatment court for years, and has recently created a mental health court to treat individuals who find themselves involved in the criminal justice
system due to mental health and substance abuse issues. However, in order to access these treatment programs, an individual has to be charged. I believe we need to work on the underlying issues before they get to this level. As District Attorney, I would advocate for increased funding for mental health services and substance abuse treatment for individuals in our community. I will continue to expand what we do for those individuals once they are in the “system” and seek appropriate consequences for their actions (treatment as opposed to convictions). We also need to work as a community to address the issues before they reach a point that requires law enforcement involvement.
It is time that we follow the lead of other North Carolina counties and create a Veterans’ Court in Durham County. We need to recognize that Veteran’s often return from deployment with service-related issues that are unique to their status as Veterans. By establishing a Veterans’ Court, prosecutors, judges, and other staff could receive training on how to address the unique
problems facing many of our veterans who find themselves facing charges, in addition to working with outside organizations to secure resources for these Veterans. Our Veterans have often sacrificed themselves in service of us. Now, we need to make sure we don’t abandon them when they return home.
Efficiency in District Court
One of the major issues facing our legal community is the inefficiencies in our District Courts. North Carolina law does not require prosecutors to provide discovery (material information
forming the basis of the State’s case) to Defendants in District Court. This often results in situations where cases that could be easily resolved if the Defense Attorney had police reports
and other information languish for months until the day of trial. The handful of prosecutors that provide police reports, do so only upon request, which itself results in undue delay in the efficient resolution of cases. As District Attorney, I would create an office-wide policy requiring prosecutors to provide police reports and other basic discovery to defendants and defense counsel at the earliest opportunity so that case can be reviewed, evaluated, and appropriately resolved.
Relationship with Law Enforcement
The District Attorney is the county’s chief prosecutor. It is critical that they have, and maintain, a close working relationship with law enforcement. On a most basic level, there needs to be routine case reviews between officers and the prosecuting ADAs. There also needs to be open communications and an understanding of the role of law enforcement and our prosecutors. When cases come in, the assigned prosecutor needs to meet with the investigator within the first few weeks to see what more needs to be done, and they need to have regular meetings as the case proceeds to make sure everything stays on track. In addition, if cases have to be dismissed because of errors, missing, or incomplete investigations, the prosecutor needs to communicate with the officers to address the reasons.
Early Case Review
Too often cases are not fully reviewed until they are close to trial, or some other deadline. There should never be circumstances where a case is on the eve of trial, only to be dismissed after it is determined that there is evidence missing or other procedural flaws. But this is the case far too often. The consequences can be dangerous, particularly when individuals expend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to retain legal services or, far worse, spend weeks in jail awaiting trial only to find out there was never a valid case against them. This sort of problem should be caught early, if not immediately, through vigilant case reviews.