Name as it appears on the ballot: Daniel Meier
Campaign website: meierforda.com
Phone number: 919.699.2851
Years lived in Durham County: 15
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Attorney’s Office? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
1. There are too many individuals needlessly sitting in jail, and for far too long. My first priority is to reduce the number of individuals in the Durham County Detention Center, as well as the length of time each person is incarcerated. I believe this can be done by working with our judges and magistrates to reform our local Bond procedures, sharing more information with judges and defense attorneys, changing our perception on what offenses warrant isolation from the community, and managing cases effectively and efficiently.
2. Convictions have permanent, life-altering consequences. A single conviction can ruin a person’s life. The focus needs to be on the appropriate consequences for a person’s conduct, rather than just attaining the conviction. The collateral consequences of convictions could be reduced or even eliminated by expanding the use of deferred prosecutions, diversion programs, and other alternatives to traditional prosecution.
3. The District Attorney’s Office enforces
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district attorney? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
For sixteen years, I’ve been practicing law in Durham County. Since 2004, I’ve been representing criminal and indigent clients as a member of the County’s court-appointed defense bar. Since 2012, I’ve served as appointed counsel through the
In these past sixteen years, I have continued to develop and hone my skills as a trial lawyer and expanded my knowledge of the intricacies of the North Carolina courts. More importantly, each individual that I’ve represented as court-appointed counsel has afforded me insight into the Durham Courts system and the varied ways in which law, law enforcement, and the courts affect individuals in Durham,
3. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?
Reforming the District Attorney’s Officer—For the better part of the last decade, the Durham Co. District Attorney’s Office has existed in the shadows due to prior administrations. Mr. Echols has restored some stability to that image. However, until recently, he’s taken few, if any, steps to make the DA’s office reflect the values and spirit that Durham embodies. Clearly, more can be done. The District Attorney has the ability to create new programs and expand existing programs that provide alternatives to traditional convictions. For instance, other counties in the State have Veterans Courts, which provide unique resources tailored to address legal, mental, and substance abuse issues that veterans face.
Presence—The position of District Attorney is administrative by nature. But it’s also a position of confidence and advocacy. For a community to elect a DA is to impress trust in that individual. It’s to believe that this person will mete out fair, equal, and impartial justice. It’s to have a presence in the courtroom and the daily administration of cases, and thus the community. I believe the elected District Attorney should periodically oversee the docket in our district courts and occasionally handle cases. This
Discovery—In District Court, defense attorneys currently have to request vital discovery and case information, such as police reports. When these requests are often approved, it still requires attorneys to ask and pick up such information. Occasionally, the reports are not released until the case is called for trial. This could be solved with one simple policy change: automatically provide police reports to the Defendants and their attorneys.
4. In Philadelphia last year, voters elected a district attorney who promised far-reaching criminal-justice reforms. Perhaps most significant, he overhauled the city’s plea-bargain system to instruct prosecutors to begin offering plea deals at the low end of sentencing guidelines, and for some crimes below the bottom end of the state’s sentencing guidelines. Do you believe these types of reforms to the criminal justice system are necessary or would be beneficial in Durham? What sort of reforms would you like to see put in place?
Yes—we need to shift the focus from convictions to consequences and reform. The policies implemented by Mr. Krasner, Eric Gonzalez (Brooklyn), and other similarly minded DAs have created a ripple effect in our criminal justice community. They’ve drawn much-needed attention to our courts and changed many people’s understanding of what it means to be a district attorney, including my own perspective on what a District Attorney can do for the Durham community.
Our own judicial system has several programs that began as humble trials and have grown into restorative prosecutorial tools and alternatives. Chief among these is the Misdemeanor Diversion Program spearheaded by our former Chief District Court Judge and current NC Representative Marcia Morey. The current program permits first-time offenders between the ages of 16 and 21 to avoid prosecution by completing a program tailored to their offense. Successful completion results in the charge(s) being dropped. I believe this program should be expanded to all
I would also work with law enforcement to recognize that certain offenses, though illegal, should be addressed through the use of citations, rather than arrests. Arrests are increasingly costly and result in the common miscarriage of justice, particularly when an arrested individual is unable to post bond. On that note, our bond system is in need of a work. I’ve discussed this in detail in the following question.
Some of Krasner’s policies, however, would have little effect in Durham. Unlike Pennsylvania, North Carolina has structured sentencing guidelines which dictate the lowest limits to which an individual can be sentenced by a judge. Outside of advocacy, North Carolina DAs are powerless to lower this bar. Similarly, North Carolina has post-release supervision instead of classic parole. The maximum amount of supervision time for an individual released in North Carolina is twelve months, excluding sex offenses. However, Pennsylvania’s parole arrangement permits state supervision for years.
The momentum that Krasner and others have created can and should lead to reforms here in Durham. My experience working in our legal community gives me the insight and ability to understand how Krasner’s reforms can and cannot work in Durham. But more importantly, it’s shown exactly what reforms Durham most needs.
5. On any given day, many residents of the Durham jail are there not because they’ve been convicted of a crime but because they cannot afford their bail. What changes to the cash bail system, if any, do you support? Why? If you don't support any changes, please explain why you think the current system is successful.
The main purpose of cash bonds is to reasonably ensure an individual appears in court, as well as protect community interests. This is an unfortunate but necessary structure, as some individuals evade court dates. Others, meanwhile, pose a legitimate danger to the Durham community and thus require high bonds as a means of protection. I believe that elimination of all bonds would likely result in unconstitutional “no-bond” holds on individuals. As such, some form of bond structure needs to remain in order to ensure that individuals charged still have an opportunity get out of jail.
However, I believe that our current arrangement is both too automated and too casual. Bonds are routinely set far beyond the level appropriate to ensure an individual’s appearance in court or that which is necessary to protect the public. I believe this stems from a lack of information. I would work with our Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, Chief District Court Judge, and Chief Magistrate to reform our presumptive bond schedule.
I would first propose the outright elimination of secured bonds under $5000 for non-violent charges and for offenses without individual victims. This would include most misdemeanors and even some low-level felonies. Ideally, bonds would be either
Second, I would ensure that the ADAs handling first appearances were equipped with all the information necessary to properly advise judges on an individual’s circumstances, as to obtain the most appropriate bond level. Far too often, a district court judge or magistrate is presented only with information of the present charge. Records of the person’s appearance and charge history are often absent, as is vital information about a person’s home and work life. This often results in bonds being set far higher than they should be.
Third, I would work with our district court judges and our defense bar to strengthen the recently formed weekly low bond review. The rapid nature of first appearances presents too much room for error. Implementing a weekly bond review would allow defense attorneys, ADAs, and our judges to revisit and analyze whether an individual’s bond is properly set and make any necessary corrections. This would also permit judges to consider new information about a defendant that could result in lowered or unsecured bonds.
There is another, individual danger in keeping the high levels of bond that we currently have. Far too often, individuals languish in jail because they cannot come up with the $200 they need to make bail. Then, thirty days later they plead guilty to a charge because it gets them out of custody for “time served.” This miscarriage of justice could easily be avoided by taking the steps to amend our bond system.
6. Do you support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrests? Under what circumstances do you believe citations should be issued?
Yes. A basic question should be asked during every encounter between a citizen and a law enforcement officer: did this person commit a crime of such danger to the community that they should be taken into custody? The answer is often “no.” As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of statutory crimes that permit, but should not result in arrest. (You could even argue that many of these offenses should be decriminalized.) Possession of marijuana, driving with a revoked license (non-DWI), panhandling, possession of alcohol in public. These are just a few of the offenses that should warrant, if anything, citations rather than arrest. Implementing a shift from arrest to
7. In terms of juvenile justice, what do you believe can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
One solution would be to refer juveniles susceptible to or presently affiliated with gangs into community organizations that embrace and recognize alternatives to gang life. Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Bull City United, among other, have educational programs, mentorships, and provide job training for at-risk kids. Outside of our courts, the DA is a political position that carries with it the ability to promote such programs and advocate for much-needed reforms to our community offerings. As DA, I would advocate for greater funding for intervention programs, like those above, and for greater access to workforce training, substance abuse treatment, and mental health resources for those that need them.
8. Perhaps the most controversial case the Durham County District Attorney’s Office handled in the last year was that of the activists who toppled the Confederate monument. Though the activists tore down the statue in plain view of anyone and everyone, the state was unable to secure any misdemeanor convictions. Do you believe justice was served in this matter? Looking back, how do you wish it would have been handled differently, if at all?
No, justice was not served. I would have worked with the individuals involved and their attorney to craft an outcome appropriate for their actions. Namely, I would have required each of the individuals charged to perform community service as part of a deferred prosecution. This would have spared the expense of trial and the waste of state resources, particularly when considering that those charged understood that there would be consequences and that they were willing to perform community service all along.
9. It has been more than a decade since North Carolina executed anyone, and there is no one who was sentenced in Durham County on death row. Do you support capital punishment? Under what circumstances would you think it proper to seek the death penalty?
No, I do not support the death penalty. Simply put, the State should not be in the business of killing people.
The death penalty doesn’t accomplish the goals that its proponents claim: deterrence to future criminal actors and prevention of similar crimes by the same actor. More important, though, is the effect on the victims’ family and surrounding community. The death penalty rarely, if ever, gives victims any real sense of closure. If “successful,” the convicted individual is put to death. But this process can take decades, during which the victim’s family and friends are faced with reliving the experience or fearing a procedural cause for the defendant’s release.
What’s more, the death penalty needlessly keeps defendants in the state and national spotlight. The trials are high-profile, as are the decades of appeals, which keep themselves and their cases in the news. This cycle re-victimized those individuals who suffer the most. It’s also clear that the death penalty is unfairly imposed on minorities and the poor more than others. This imbalance, I believe, further erodes our faith in the criminal justice system.
There’s also the economic impact of pursuing death. The process requires the State to expend a tremendous amount of its personnel and financial resources during the pre-trial stages, the trial itself, and throughout the post-conviction appeals. We need all of these protections for the death penalty because mistakes are
This leads us to innocence claims. Advancements made in DNA testing and biotechnology have resulted in a wave of death row inmates being exonerated. These are innocent individuals that would have been murdered at the hands of the State. They serve as concrete proof that we do get it wrong sometimes. It’s foolish to think that we haven’t put innocent individuals to death.
So is there a circumstance where it would be proper to seek the death penalty? No. Life without parole is more than sufficient.
10. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.
Personal amounts of marijuana used in the home or other private spaces do not pose a threat or other danger to the public. Dozens of states have already legalized or decriminalized marijuana through legislation and referendums. I am confident that North Carolina will follow, though it may take several years. In the meantime, I think we should work with local law enforcement to move away from arresting and charging individuals for possession of personal amounts of marijuana. My experience defending individuals charged with simple possession