Between 2007 and 2014, prosecutors in Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County dismissed 13 consecutive weapons charges against one man, Mario McGill. Then he shot and and killed Robert Miller, a childhood friend. Lisa Miller is unsure why McGill killed her 26-year-old son, but she believes Mecklenburg County’s justice system is sending a dangerous message to those who commit crimes with guns. “It says if they get off one time, they can continue to get off,” Miller said. “They’re taking people from their families. And it doesn’t have to be that way.” Cases like McGill’s have contributed to an alarming statistic: From 2014 through 2018, Mecklenburg prosecutors dismissed 68 percent of weapons charges, a higher rate than any other urban county in North Carolina, reports the Charlotte Observer. Statewide, prosecutors dismissed half of all weapons charges during the five-year period.
Mecklenburg’s high dismissal rate means that defendants who commit crimes have a greater chance of avoiding punishment than in other counties. Suspects who get away with crimes often move on to worse offenses, including murder, experts say. Charlotte homicides this year are on pace to reach near-record levels. To investigate how prosecutors handle weapons crimes, the Observer analyzed data on 58 charges that involved weapons, murder or manslaughter. The investigation found that more than half of the roughly 300 people charged with murder in Mecklenburg County since 2015 had prior weapons charges. For 28 murder suspects, a conviction on an earlier weapons charge — rather than a dismissal — would have put them behind bars at the time of the killing. Former prosecutors said they had little choice but to plea bargain or dismiss most charges. That’s because prosecutors shoulder heavy caseloads and operate in a court system that is so overburdened that fewer than one percent of felony cases go to trial.