Wake County’s Under-Resourced Justice System

I’ve written about possible reforms to our broader criminal justice system that, I argue, would reduce costs and increase the overall efficiency of the system. A speedy trial statute. A plea bargain option for DWIs. District Court jury trials. And restoring court control over the Division of Motor Vehicles.

All great ideas, if I do say so myself.

But if we’re not going to reform the system, and if we’re going to pile on new laws each year that make the system more and more inefficient, the least we could do as a state is to provide enough resources to properly pay the people who work in the system and to provide enough of those people to make the system work.

Wake County Is the Least Resourced County

Forget about pay for assistant public defenders and assistant district attorneys. It’s abysmal.

Wake County, in particular, needs more district attorneys and public defenders (and judges) to staff its overburdened courthouse. The county built a much-needed justice center that opened in 2013. And it expanded the detention facility. All these bricks-and-mortar projects are great, but the problem is the county doesn’t have enough people to staff the criminal cases it handles each year.

As WRAL reported last month, the increase in DWI cases, the result of new federal law enforcement grants, has further strained the court system. Newly-elected DA Lorrin Freeman has called for additional resources for Wake County.

Wake County has the fewest number of ADAs per resident of any county in North Carolina. The result is an overworked DA’s office.

While local funds can be used to provide for temporary assistant district attorneys, and private attorneys can be appointed on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the trial judge to prosecute cases, only the legislature can authorize new permanent, fully-funded ADA positions.

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.