Tracey Cline | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Tracey Cline

Candidate for Durham District Attorney

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Tracey Cline
Party: Democrat
Date of Birth: 3-16-63
Candidate web site:
Occupation & Employer: Chief Assistant District Attorney, State of North Carolina
Years lived in Durham: 14 years

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 first issue deals with the perceptions of the District Attorney’s Office. It appears that the public has lost the trust that it once had in the prosecutor’s office. There needs to be a restoration of integrity to the Office of District Attorney. In my life I have learned that people believe in what they see and not what hear. To be sure it is good to talk about the problems with the past so we will not repeat them. But what is really important is to show the citizens that you are a person to be trusted. To do that is simple: just do the right thing for the right reason at all times whether it is covered by the national media or whispered to an audience of one. Right is treating all people fairly, equal justice for all people all the time. Equal justice should not be dependant on ethnicity, economic standing, or sexual preference. A prosecutor must also be transparent in the decisions which are made and be ready to answer the hard questions.

Then there is of course is the issue of juvenile crime. One cannot speak about juveniles in the court system without recognizing that there is a problem with gangs among our young people. The role models for children have changed. They used to be the school teacher, the preacher, or a police officer. Now if seems that for many youth the role models are members or gangs or drug dealers. At times this comes from a break down in our family structure. I believe that a person’s nature is to belong to a group of people who love and care about that person. Some kids are reaching out for love and just a feeling of acceptance. Some may argue that there is not much that the system can do to help these children. I believe that there are many things we can do. As a prosecutor, by the title you are reactive when it comes to crime. We need to also be proactive. There is a gap in our court system and our children are falling thru that gap. It is between juvenile court and “adult court”. When a child has been adjudicated delinquent or convicted of a crime and then turns 16, what happens in his life to prevent that child from moving easily back into the criminal habits which placed him in the juvenile court system? There is nothing. There needs to be. I propose that the prosecutor’s office, the Sheriff’s Department (since they deal with truancy), and the school system start a program which an emphasis is on preventing juvenile offenders from becoming adult offenders. We could target the children who have been adjudicated delinquent, committed juvenile offenses, or have been expelled from school. These children can be court ordered if under some kind of criminal penalty or ordered thru the school for some kind of school punishment. The focus of the program should be self-esteem with an emphasis on determent from the criminal life.

Finally, the District Attorney needs to become partners with the citizens in Durham. Go to PAC meetings, see what their concerns are, and meet with law enforcement to determine what can be done to address those concerns in the specific communities.

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.

Being born the youngest of six to a poor Baptist preacher, taught me at a very early age that the measure of who you are is not based on what you have. And by disrespecting other you are just disrespecting yourself. Even though these seem very simple things they carried me a long way in my life. The value of a person is important to be a prosecutor. Each life has value and each person is important. And as a prosecutor you must know that each person, each situation deserves your respect and attention not just a limited few.

After law school I was an assistant public defender from 1989 to 1993 and my feeling was and still is that all people deserve a competent defense. I wanted to protect the rights of all people. When I left the public defender’s office I was given recognition for my tireless pursuit of justice for the poor.

After that I went to the District Attorney’s Office in Elizabeth City, where I was confronted with what I felt was a disparity in justice based solely on race. I refused to be a party to that injustice.

And in 1994 Jim Hardin hired me. I was the first assistant district attorney he hired. I was hired to help with the backlog of murder case which we had at that time. And I worked to clear our calendar. For a short time I worked in private practice. I did not like it and asked Jim Hardin to hire me back and he did. I like to think that it was because of my work ethic.

When Jim Hardin was appointed to the judgeship, I received an unsolicited interview from the Governor’s Office. I was so humbled and yet overjoyed to learn that judges and many of my colleagues had recommended me to be the District Attorney for Durham County.

After that I became the first assistant district attorney and David Saacks was the chief assistant district attorney. I was personally responsible for having 4 courtrooms running at one time. I called Judge Stanbeck and asked him to help us out and he agreed without hesitation. That had never been done in the history of Durham County.

Now I am the chief assistant district attorney; Mr. Saacks promoted me to that position when he was appointed to the Office of District Attorney.

3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

Politically, I am liberal in that I believe I am my bother’s keeper. No man lives in a vacuum. The transgressions of one affect us all. And by the same token, the kindness of one does the same.

We cannot tackle the challenges that are in the County of Durham without each other. We must come together and work this out for our future. The gang bangers are our children. The drug dealers are our children and the teenagers lying in the streets covered with blood are our children. We as a community must make a difference. I have spoken with school board members, members of law enforcement, and real estate agents and property owners. All of us have a vest interest in Durham. So we all must have a vested interest in our children.As a prosecutor now, I make it my duty to speak to children I see in the courtroom. I send them to deferment programs if at all possible. I explain to them the importance of education and staying out of trouble. If the parents are with them, I tell the child in front of the parent how blessed they are to have parents because most children in the court system come to court alone. I refer teenagers to teen court to be administered justice by their peers. At one time as a prosecutor I volunteered and worked for teen court.Not just in running a campaign but in my daily life I try to make a difference in a person’s life. I have been a mentor for 3 young ladies. One of which presently is a teacher. The other two did not go to college but they know that there is someone in this world who cares about them. I speak to victims of domestic violence and displaced families at the genesis house.

4. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Juvenile offenders who commit violent offenses should be punished and sentenced as an adult. A child with a gun is a very dangerous person.

5. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

My campaign slogan is equal justice for all people. That is what we need here in the Triangle, especially in Durham. A person should be able to expect justice based on the facts of his or her case not justice based on who you know or who your family may know.

6. North Carolina prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults. (Thirteen-year-old juveniles who are charged with felonies can also be prosecuted as adults, if transferred from juvenile court.) Do you support the raising of the juvenile jurisdiction to 18? Explain.

I do support raising the age for certain crimes lower lever felonies only. I know this may seem harsh, but the most dangerous person in the world is a child with a gun. He has not lived long enough to respect life or understand the finality of death. For the protection of the community, I feel like that age should not be raised.

As for lower level nonviolent felonies I think is should be raised. A person under the age of 18 may not have the maturity level to understand the magnitude of the criminal charge especially a felony charge. One bad decision should not ruin a child’s life.

7. What is your position on seeking the death penalty? Why?

The death penalty is punishment which can not be reversed. In light of that I take it very seriously. There are stringent statutory guidelines for capital punishment cases. If a case technically qualifies for capital punishment, I do not believe that a prosecutor should automatically seek the death penalty. There are many factors to consider such as: whether the role of the defendant in the crime, the mental capacity of the defendant, the strength of the evidence against the defendant and the wishes of the victim’s family.

In determining whether to seek the death penalty, as the District Attorney I would have a panel of persons to meet together and talk about the case and meet with the victim’s family to get their views. If the victim’s family wanted life, then the death penalty would not be considered in that case. However if they wanted death, that would not be their decision only. If would be a decided by a panel of persons who would take the family’s wishes into consideration.

I am reluctant in saying that I support the death penalty, because support to me means that I am one who would campaign to make sure it remains in our statutes. I would not be a person holding the signs on capital hill; however I can follow the law as it relates to capitol murder cases.

8. Are you in favor of raising suggested bond guidelines for serious felonies? Are you in favor of unsecured bonds for Class 2 and 3 misdemeanors? Explain.

I am in favor of raising the bonds on serious felonies. Too many persons on pretrial release for serious offenses become repeat offenders while awaiting trial on the first charge. I personally, have prosecuted a person who was out on pretrial release for a murder, and he picked up four more felonies one of which was a serious assault. He was a danger to the community. I am also in favor of the new pretrial release program which includes electronic supervision in some cases that may be appropriate.

As for Class 2 and 3 misdemeanors, an unsecured bond should be the rule. The person is not going to jail so to keep the defendant in jail for any time is more punishment then he would probably ever get.

9. When is it inappropriate to plea bargain cases?

There are many times where it is appropriate to plea bargain cases dealing with felony cases. The prosecutor should take into consideration the age of the defendant, his prior record if any, the type of crime (whether a property crime of a violent crime), the damage done to the victim, the restitution sought by the victim, the recommendation of the law enforcement officer and the victim.

10. How do you plan to better manage the movement of cases through the system? What can you do to process the huge backlog of cases?

There needs to be more sessions of court. Prior to becoming the chief assistant district attorney, I was the first assistant district who made sure that we kept the court rooms running with jury trials. During that time for the first time in Durham’s history we had 4 criminal trial courtrooms going at one time. And we did that twice. We need more sessions of court. We need more courts to try cases.

Presently we are working on a plan to have an extra session of court 2 times a month and that will greatly reduce our case load in superior.

Also, the statute allows the state to plead out some lower level felonies in district court. In Wake County they do this. I think this is something we should consider in Durham. We just need a district court judge who will do it and a court reporter. That will free up more space in superior court so we can try more cases..

In district court, we need to focus on obtaining information from the police department as quickly as possible on a felonies pending in district court. Presently we are working on getting a direct line to the records at the police department so we do not have to wait to have that information. It will be at our finger tips.

Finally, as for persons held in jail awaiting trial, they should be tried as quickly as possible. And if they are only being held on a misdemeanor, the prosecutor assigned to the jail grant should make determine whether that person wants to pled guilty or have a trial. Guilty pleas can be handled immediately and trials should be set on the officer’s next court date.

11. Why are there so few jury criminal court trials in Superior Court? Is it your position that you won’t seek a jury trial unless you are certain you can be successful?

I think part of the answer to the is question is in the previous question. A reason for few trials in superior court is lack of court rooms and time.

My position on trying cases is simple. The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice whatever justice is. It may mean trying a hard case, a case based only on circumstantial evidence. What is important is that first you personally believe that the defendant is guilty, there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt in your mind that he is guilty and you do the best you can with the evidence you have. No case is a sure win. And a prosecutor should never gauge his or her success on wins and losses. It is doing the right thing no matter what that counts. It’s giving equal justice to all people all the time.

There is comfort in that. I tried a first degree murder case this week, the victim’s mother was not there, the victim was poor, lived in the housing projects, no fancy clothes or car and he was shot dead in the dark a block from his home. Dead at 18. There were no TV cameras there, no affluent family members to pat me on the back. But after I presented the evidence to the jury and gave my closing argument. I had won. It felt good to speak out for him. The jury has not reached a verdict yet. But I have already won. That is the best feeling in the world.

12. What is your experience in juvenile court? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?

About 14 years ago I did some work in juvenile court and in the last couple of years I have handled a few cases in juvenile court.

The gang problem is an issue that will take more that a lockup and throw away the key. There must be a reaching out and building up of our teens; teach them to respect hard work, give them a place to go after school, and enforce all truancy laws.


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