Name as it appears on the ballot: Roger Echols
Campaign website: reelectrogerecholsda.com
Phone number: (919) 452-4255
Years lived in Durham County: 5
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?
The most important issue facing the District Attorney’s Office is the significant amount of violent crime that the county experiences and therefore the number of violent cases that the District Attorney’s Office is tasked with prosecuting. In recognizing this issue I have done the following:
a.) Increased the number of prosecutors who prosecute violent crimes. When I became District Attorney the office dedicated 7 prosecutors to the prosecution of violent crime. Currently, I have assigned 9 prosecutors to a caseload focused on the prosecution of felony violent crime. In order to do
b.) We implemented homicide status conferences to more effectively and efficiently handle and dispose of homicide cases. Handling homicide cases this way focuses everyone’s attention on these cases including our Senior Resident Superior Court Judge who is the only judge who presides over these status conferences. Since the implementation of the quarterly status
c.) My office has also worked with the police department
Another important issue facing the district attorney’s office is disposing of cases fairly in a way that balances public safety, victim’s rights and the overly punitive effect (and sometimes unfair effect) a criminal record can have on defendants after they have served their punishment. I have done the following to address this issue:
a.) Most nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies are disposed of by way of deferred prosecution (for misdemeanors and felonies) or misdemeanors for
b.) Implemented programs such as misdemeanor diversion program, mental health court and amnesty day (described in greater detail later in this questionnaire).
c.) Created a partnership with the Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham in part to look for sentencing alternatives. Implemented restorative justice dispositions (1st DA in Durham to do so). We have entered restorative justice dispositions in Durham on major felonies which we believe to be the first in this state.
I will continue to work within the court system and with other community agencies to look for sentencing alternatives that would lessen the effect of convictions on offenders without compromising the safety of other citizens.
I have a total of 20 years of prosecutorial experience which includes 3 ½ years as Durham County District Attorney and 4 years as a chief assistant district attorney. My experience includes personally prosecuting thousands of cases and making decisions in thousands of additional cases that prosecutors under my supervision have been assigned to. I have personally prosecuted and overseen some of the most high profile cases in Durham County’s history. I have prosecuted all types of cases including property crimes, financial crimes, drug trafficking, rapes, child sex offenses, homicides and all other types of violent crime. I have been the lead prosecutor in over 100 jury trials including rape, child sex offense and homicide trials. During my tenure as a prosecutor I have supervised lawyers and support staff. As district attorney I have maintained and strengthened the stability of the office of district attorney. I have implemented homicide status conferences that have resulted in greater focus and efficiency in the administration and disposition of homicides as district attorney. Since we have implemented quarterly homicide status conferences, we have disposed of more homicides
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?
The history of the Durham County District Attorney’s Office has included turmoil. My tenure as district attorney has been one of stability and integrity that has allowed the focus of the office and the system to be
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?
Many of the reforms mentioned by the district attorney elected in Philadelphia have been implemented in Durham, specifically in how plea bargains are offered. It can be argued that our current plea bargain system is less punitive than that of Philadelphia.
One of the reforms mentioned in Philadelphia is the creation of a conviction integrity unit. Every district attorney and prosecutor should be pro-innocence. Some district attorneys across the country have created conviction integrity units like the one suggested in Philadelphia because that is their best option to address wrongful convictions. However, in North
I believe the policies and initiatives mentioned above have been beneficial to Durham. There are more reforms that could be made. Programs such as the misdemeanor diversion program, mental health court and amnesty day are also reforms that have been locally made to the justice system that have been beneficial to Durham. More programs that give more options to address cases without obtaining convictions while using more resources to address whatever may be the offender’s issues. Reforms in the system should be made to decriminalize poverty. Offenses such as sleeping in a park, soliciting alms (begging), and public urination should not be criminal offenses. For this reason, my office regularly dismisses these types of offenses. Judges should be able to remit costs of court based on findings of a defendant’s inability to pay.
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.
I support a complete change in the bail system including the elimination of cash bail. I specifically support a system that would decide pretrial release based on safety to the community. If a defendant is deemed to not be a threat to the safety of the community his or her release should not depend on the posting of any bond. I support these changes because the cash bail system is an inequitable system that gives an unfair disadvantage to those without means and an unfair advantage to those with significant financial means. State laws determine pretrial release in North Carolina. I support things that can be done locally that would minimize the unfair disadvantages of the cash bail system on people without significant financial means. Specifically expanded pretrial services with pretrial assessment tools designed to release more defendants pretrial. I support measures such as this because I believe greater pretrial services would balance the interests of the community to be safe with the liberty of defendants who have not been convicted of a crime.
6. Do you support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrests? Under what circumstances do you believe citations should be issued?
I support the expanded use of citations. Citations should be issued on traffic misdemeanors except driving while impaired and eluding arrest. I also support the use of citations or process that would avoid arrest on class 2 and class 3 misdemeanors.
7. In terms of juvenile justice, what do you believe can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
I would like to see families and juveniles given more options for extracurricular activities and education during afternoons, nights, weekends and summers. If there are options provided other than the lack of those options which make gang involvement more likely, I believe that could help. If more options are provided or facilitated through juvenile justice that could also help prevent gang involvement.
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?
I do not believe justice was completely served in this matter. As I publicly stated shortly after the date of the monument destruction, justice required that I take into account the recent events in Charlottesville, the continued marginalization of many in our community, state laws that made it impossible to address the issue of Confederate monuments locally and the fact that property was destroyed in violation of the law. After analysis of those factors, I thought prosecution of felonies was inappropriate. I also believed justice could be served in most cases without the conviction of any crime including misdemeanors. The Rules of Professional Conduct do not allow me to speak about negotiations while a prosecution is pending; therefore, I could not ethically reveal plea offers or anything about negotiations before the cases were
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?
I am not a proponent of the death penalty. The U.S. Constitution and State law
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.
I have made several decisions that could cost me points with some voters. Every decision that we make as DAs and assistants involve competing interests. Most times there are more than two entities with an interest in the decisions that we make. Sometimes the right decision involves disappointing all entities and it never involves making all entities happy. Some of the principled decisions that I have made are as follows:
1.) I did not prosecute those charged with destruction of the
2.) I did make the decision to prosecute those charged with destruction of the
3.) I dismissed charges against the remaining defendants in the
4.) I have approved over 30 defendants for mental health court, some charged with felonies and or violent crimes, some with significant criminal records knowing that if they comply with mental health treatment they will not be convicted of any crime.
5.) Approved deferred prosecution for the defendant charged with class F felonies for firing a gun inside Wheels Skating Rink
I will continue to make decisions that I believe are right regardless of the political ramifications