Juvenile diversion program rolls along in Durham | News
News
INDY Week's news blog

Archives | RSS

Friday, June 6, 2014

Juvenile diversion program rolls along in Durham

Posted by on Fri, Jun 6, 2014 at 6:27 PM

The girl, 17, stood in front of the judge on Friday, looking down and speaking faintly. 

The charge was misdemeanor larceny. The defendant, Starr Smith, stole a pair of $80 jeans from Sears at Northgate Mall. She missed her first court date and spent a night in jail. 

Marcia Morey, the chief district judge for Durham County, addressed the girl matter-of-factly. 

"A night in jail?" said Morey. "How was it, bad?"

"Yeah," whispered Starr, wearing a hair barrette and small nose ring.

"Really bad? Were you scared?"

"Yeah."

Morey issued a 30-day jail sentence, which she suspended  in lieu of six months' probation and 25 hours of community service. The judge then ordered the girl to pay $180 in court cost and restitution, a $50 fine, a $250 community service fee, a $110 attorney fee and a $240 probation fee. Because Starr admitted to having experimented with marijuana, Morey imposed a $150 risk assessment fee. She also barred Starr from returning to Northgate.

In the front row of the courtroom. a group of 10 16- and 17-year-old offenders watched the action. Seated behind them were their parents, along with several Durham officials including two school board members and three county commissioners.

"What you just saw can happen to anyone 16 or older for any misdemeanor crime," Morey told the teenagers. Then she said something that came as a surprise to several people in the courtroom.

"Starr is not her real name," said Morey, gesturing toward the defendant. "She didn't do it."

"Starr," in fact, was a 17-year-old senior at Southern High School named Shakia, who was acting out a skit. She was one of the first participants in Durham County's misdemeanor diversion program for juveniles, launched by Morey in April. Last year Shakia got into an argument at school, and was issued a disorderly conduct citation. She resisted the officer's arrest, earning a second citation.

Like Shakia, the 10 teens in the courtroom had been arrested for first-time misdemeanors. Rather than be charged as adults, as is the custom in other jurisdictions, they had agreed to participate in the 40-day diversion program; if they successfully fulfill classroom and community service requirements, their criminal arrest records will be wiped clean.

"We're trying to give you an example," said Morey from the bench. "One-thousand dollars to avoid thirty days in jail is pretty rough, isn't it? This state is the toughest in the country for people who, beginning on their 16th birthday, are treated in court as adults." 

Morey has been publicly critical of North Carolina's laws, which send 16- and 17-year-olds to adult courts. Their criminal records typically follow them into adulthood, making it hard for them to apply for jobs and secure housing or federal loans for college.

Last month N.C. House Bill 725 — the "Raise the Age Bill" — won a vote on the House floor. The law would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 for misdemeanor crimes. The bill, which would be fully implemented in 2020, now moves to the Senate.

In the courtroom Morey offered words of encouragement and advice, explaining that about 550 juveniles in Durham are arrested annually, and that teenagers charged with a first crime are four times more likely than others to be charged again. "Every one of you has a dream," she said. "Don't let mistakes stop you."

An assistant district attorney, assistant public defender and Durham Police investigator also addressed the teenagers.

After the hearing, Shakia, who had volunteered to participate in the skit, smiled in the hallway as passersby complemented her thespian skills. Next week she will graduate from high school.

"I feel good," she said. "It's great to have the opportunity to start over, and get things straight." Perhaps appropriately, her T-shirt said, "Dreamer."

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in News



Twitter Activity

Comments

It's spelled "Zainab Baloch".

by jason0x21 on Baldwin Bows Out of Raleigh At-large Race; All Council Candidates Have Opposition (News)

I live in Durham NC. We have a large growth in the last 6 years. The city have really gotten …

by Margaret Houston on Section 8 Voucher Holders Are Having a Hard Time Finding Housing in Durham (News)

Most Recent Comments

It's spelled "Zainab Baloch".

by jason0x21 on Baldwin Bows Out of Raleigh At-large Race; All Council Candidates Have Opposition (News)

I live in Durham NC. We have a large growth in the last 6 years. The city have really gotten …

by Margaret Houston on Section 8 Voucher Holders Are Having a Hard Time Finding Housing in Durham (News)

@ Hunter23 "A combination of investors and loans" is not specific, and nowhere in the article is the phrase "private …

by RJO_III on North Carolina FC and John Kane Want to Put a Big Ol' Soccer Stadium in Downtown Raleigh (News)

The article clearly states the building would be privately funded with the state/local gov pitching in for infrastructure enhancement. The …

by Hunter23 on North Carolina FC and John Kane Want to Put a Big Ol' Soccer Stadium in Downtown Raleigh (News)

I truly admire the passion and support the message. But it seems standing on an overpass during rush hour traffic …

by Diane Alenezi on High Above I-40, Protesters Call for "Health Care 4 All" (News)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation