Name as it appears on the ballot: Jonathan Wilson
Campaign website: wilson4da.com
Years lived in Durham County: 16 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 greatest challenge facing the District Attorney’s Office is the sudden (and perceived) increase in violent crime that has made Durham residents feel unsafe. This increase in violent crime is particularly troubling in a diverse County like Durham that already suffers from stigma and anti-Durham bias related to crime. My priorities are to: (1) address the office’s handling of violent crimes (which are on the rise), (2) implement policies/practices to ensure that victims of crime feel heard and protected, and (3) take steps to prevent unnecessary or disproportionate prosecution of individuals from low-income and vulnerable populations (including youth, persons with mental and substance use disorders, veterans) and ensure they are connected to vital resources.
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.
As a criminal defense attorney, I have spent my entire career holding the District Attorney’s Office accountable and protecting the Constitutional rights of both offenders and victims. I have tried every type of case at the Durham County Courthouse, ranging from minor traffic violations to murder. I am not a politician. I am not an academic. I am a trial lawyer and a tireless advocate for the underserved. To bring about tangible change in Durham (specifically, lowering crime and preventing recidivism), we must strategically focus the resources of the District Attorney’s office to aggressively and efficiently prosecuting violent crime and gun offenses. The office must also partner with law enforcement and other stakeholders to consistently and aggressively engage in community outreach efforts, specifically targeting our youth. In addition to my law practice, I am engaged in the Durham community. For example, I currently serve as Vice President of the Board of Directors of Durham County Teen Court and Restitution Program, an organization with a mission of providing constructive opportunities for community service and victim restitution while holding juvenile and youthful offenders accountable for criminal and delinquent behavior. I am also a head coach with the Special Olympics of North Carolina Unified Basketball team, which will be participating in the USA Special Olympics Games this summer in Orlando. I care deeply about Durham and will work tirelessly to make it a place where all people can feel safe and thrive.
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?
While I am aligned with the incumbent in several ways including her approach to reducing unnecessary court involvement and incarceration for certain non-violent offenses, I believe there has been a lack of focus on Durham’s very unique and immediate needs and a lack of communication and engagement with victims and concerned citizens. There have been missed opportunities to effectively prosecute violent crime as evidenced by disproportionately light plea offers and acquittals in addition to serious lapses in communication with victims and families that have left many feeling alienated, unheard, and unprotected.
4. Recently, gun violence has proliferated in communities across the nation, including in Durham County. How should the DA’s office focus resources to addressing violent gun crime and prosecuting offenders?
Collaboration with law enforcement, community leaders, and educators is the key to addressing violent crimes and firearm offenses. When it comes down to prosecuting offenders charged with violent crimes, we must make sure that the most experienced ADA’s assigned to those cases and ADAs are trial-ready.
5. 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 cash bail system is in need of constant change. As District Attorney, I would make every effort to ensure poverty is not criminalized. When it comes to the economic implications of criminal justice, I would only seek the remuneration necessary to ensure appearances and deter crime, and in the case of restitution, seek only the amount necessary to restore the victim. Specifically, while bail amounts are decided by the judge, the District Attorney can enforce a policy where only reasonable bond recommendations are made in cases that do not involve violent crimes or firearm offenses.
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, I support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrest. I believe that citations should be issued for most low-level misdemeanors and non-violent crimes.
7. What do you think is the most effective way to deal with low-level drug offenders? What are or what would be your policies regarding plea bargaining in drug offense cases?
I would continue the policy of declining to prosecute simple drug possession. For first time offenders caught with felony possession of drugs, I would push for diversion programs and education. While reasonable pleas that do not involve jail time are preferred for most drug offenses without aggravating circumstances, appropriate plea bargaining must be determined on a case by case basis.
8. In terms of juvenile justice, what do you believe can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
Again, I am of the opinion that the collaboration of law enforcement, community leaders, and educators is the key to preventing delinquency and gang involvement. It is important that we get more involved in the schools to try mentor and provide better opportunities for our youth. In cases where youth are charged with minor offenses, I would refer them to programs such as the Teen Court Restitution Program and the P.R.O.U.D program. In the event of violent crimes, the Juvenile court system is necessary. Through the Juvenile court system, the youth and family can receive the necessary services, which can include mental health treatment, drug treatment and mentorship opportunities. One of my first action items as DA would be to meet with Durham County stakeholders in the juvenile justice arena to receive feedback about how the DA’s office can assist them in their efforts.
9. As DA, how have you dealt with fatal use of force by the local police? If you are a challenger, how well do you think the incumbent DA has dealt with use of force by local law enforcement officers?
Police brutality in all its forms must be eradicated. In Durham, we are fortunate to have diverse police and Sheriff’s departments that are not plagued by claims of systemic and widespread racial bias and/or rampant use of excessive force. While I do not express an opinion on the incumbent’s handling of use of force by local law enforcement, I believe it is the job of the DA’s office to monitor cases involving police use force and proactively hold officers accountable for excessive force.
10. 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 capital punishment. There are no circumstances where I believe the death penalty should be sought.
11. 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 would impose stricter policies regarding pre-trial release in cases involving guns and violent crime. The social ills that lead to violent crime will not be remediated overnight. In the interim, we must prioritize the safety of the community while ensuring fairness and equity.