Wake County District Attorney Watch: Upheaval? Let’s Hope Not

If you talk to the front line Assistant District Attorneys, the men and women who actually prosecute cases on behalf of the elected DA and the State of North Carolina, there’s at least a little anxiety about what the future holds.

Assistant District Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the elected DA. They have no particular job security, and considerably less than North Carolina Public School teachers who, at least now, still have the protection of tenure.

(It is still a brutal job market for lawyers, although those who considerable experience can certainly transition into private practice, especially on the civil side which is far more remunerative. God forbid we face a flood of new criminal defense lawyer into the market!)

Right now, the office is functioning well, people are doing their jobs. As the election heats up, people are sure to start to worry about what the future holds.

No Upheavals

Given that the office has been among the most stable in the State, with low turnover, a reputation for handling business in a steady manner, it would be ideal for candidates to signal to the front line prosecutors that their jobs are safe, and that any changes will be made gradually, a year or two after the 2014 election.

The county does not need a new elected DA to come in and clean house. Whatever the political bent of the elected DA, most crimes are non-political, and it’s hard to imagine that any of the crimes currently prosecuted on a daily basis in Wake County could be handled much more harshly.

It’s not like a DWI is treated leniently in Wake County, and only DA running on a MADD-backed campaign of enforcing these laws more harshly will change the fact that the Wake County District Attorney currently has a no-drop policy.

Colon Willoughby has run a pretty tight ship, as it were. There’s not a lot of room to run to the right. Harsh on crime? I got it: but this is an office that prosecutes second time DWIs that result in death as Second Degree Murder cases.

Defense Attorneys Want Consistency, Too

Clients want great outcomes. Defense attorneys also want good outcomes, but they want consistency and predictability. They want to be able to set expectations properly and, hopefully, exceed those expectations. I appeared in front of a judge a while back who is not terribly well experienced in criminal law, and the sentence he imposed upon my client was far in excess of what I anticipated, or even what the DA requested. Uncertainty creates very bad days.

Prosecutors who treat like cases the same way are prized, as much as prosecutors who can see the distinctions where those warrant different outcomes.

A DA’s office thrown into upheaval by a once-in-a-generation election creates too much confusion.

Who ever makes it to the general election should at least assure the current office that things will remain more or less the same while that person has the opportunity to evaluate how things operate.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.