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North Carolina Prosecutors Overwhelmingly Drop Violent Gun Crime Charges, Report Shows

North Carolina Prosecutors Overwhelmingly Drop Violent Gun Crime Charges, Report Shows

Prosecutors dismissed about 68% of all firearms charges from 2014-2018 in Mecklenburg County, N.C., according to an investigation by The Charlotte Observer. According to the newspaper, the county’s largest city, Charlotte, has a murder rate about three times higher than New York City’s (about 10 murders per 100,000 residents in 2017).

“The message that is received by a criminal mind is, ‘I shot this person with a gun, but they let me go. So I’ll just go out and get me another gun. Who feels safe in a city where people can break rules, commit crimes and nothing is done about it?” Judy Williams, co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, told the Observer.

Police agreed. “We’re having criminals that aren’t being disciplined, and they’re turning into monsters,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Detective Matthew Freeman, who investigates violent crimes in southwest Charlotte, told the newspaper.

The Observer investigation found:

  • Of some 300 or so people charged with murder in the county since 2015, more than half had prior gun-related criminal charges.
  • 28 murders could have been averted if the suspects’ prior charges had led to conviction, as the offenders would have been in jail at the time of the murders.
  • Even very serious charges like armed robbery had a high dismissal rate of about 57%.



Why? Per the investigation: “Prosecutors shoulder heavy caseloads and operate in a state-funded court system that is so overburdened that less than 1% of felony cases go to trial.”

The newspaper stated Mecklenburg County has only 86 prosecutors—“fewer [prosecutors] than almost any county its size nationwide.”

David Labahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told the Observer a county that size should have at least 120 prosecutors, adding that dismissing lower-level gun charges means criminals are more likely to commit more serious crimes later.

The reporters also found charges often are dismissed because under-resourced courts would be unable to cope with more cases.

The high-dismissal rate has had a big impact on the community in terms of lives lost. The newspaper highlighted the death of a 26-year-old man shot and killed in 2015 by an offender with 13 consecutive gun-related criminal charges—all dismissed.

One victim’s mother told reporters Mecklenburg County was sending a terrible message: “[Criminals believe] if they get off one time, they can continue to get off. They’re taking people from their families. And it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Alan Lizotte, professor at the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Albany, told the Observer that criminal suspects in violent cities learn that a gun charge “gets you nothing.”

“This is how homicides happen,” Lizotte declared.

Prosecutors dismissed about 68% of all firearms charges from 2014-2018 in Mecklenburg County, N.C., according to an investigation by The Charlotte Observer. According to the newspaper, the county’s largest city, Charlotte, has a murder rate about three times higher than New York City’s (about 10 murders per 100,000 residents in 2017).

“The message that is received by a criminal mind is, ‘I shot this person with a gun, but they let me go. So I’ll just go out and get me another gun. Who feels safe in a city where people can break rules, commit crimes and nothing is done about it?” Judy Williams, co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, told the Observer.

Police agreed. “We’re having criminals that aren’t being disciplined, and they’re turning into monsters,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Detective Matthew Freeman, who investigates violent crimes in southwest Charlotte, told the newspaper.

The Observer investigation found:

  • Of some 300 or so people charged with murder in the county since 2015, more than half had prior gun-related criminal charges.
  • 28 murders could have been averted if the suspects’ prior charges had led to conviction, as the offenders would have been in jail at the time of the murders.
  • Even very serious charges like armed robbery had a high dismissal rate of about 57%.

Why? Per the investigation: “Prosecutors shoulder heavy caseloads and operate in a state-funded court system that is so overburdened that less than 1% of felony cases go to trial.”

The newspaper stated Mecklenburg County has only 86 prosecutors—“fewer [prosecutors] than almost any county its size nationwide.”

David Labahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told the Observer a county that size should have at least 120 prosecutors, adding that dismissing lower-level gun charges means criminals are more likely to commit more serious crimes later.

The reporters also found charges often are dismissed because under-resourced courts would be unable to cope with more cases.

The high-dismissal rate has had a big impact on the community in terms of lives lost. The newspaper highlighted the death of a 26-year-old man shot and killed in 2015 by an offender with 13 consecutive gun-related criminal charges—all dismissed.

One victim’s mother told reporters Mecklenburg County was sending a terrible message: “[Criminals believe] if they get off one time, they can continue to get off. They’re taking people from their families. And it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Alan Lizotte, professor at the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Albany, told the Observer that criminal suspects in violent cities learn that a gun charge “gets you nothing.”

“This is how homicides happen,” Lizotte declared.

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