DA: Do community service to discharge 'Moral Monday' arrests

Hoping to avoid 924 trials, District Attorney Colon Willoughby is offering those arrested in Moral Monday protests a way to get their charges dismissed.

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Sloane Heffernan, Amanda Lamb
Laura Leslie

The Wake County District Attorney's office is hoping to avoid trying all 924 people that have been arrested at this year's Moral Monday protests.

Wake DA Colon Willoughby is making those people an offer: Perform 25 hours community service and pay $180 in court costs, and the charges will be dismissed. 

According to Willoughby, it's called "deferred prosecution," and it is no different from how he has dealt with cases of civil disobedience in the past.

"We don't feel this is a crime of moral turpitude," he said, noting that the same offer was made to Occupy Raleigh protesters. 

Arrestees don't have to admit guilt if they fulfill the community service requirement and pay the court costs. After a set amount of time, usually six months, all charges are dismissed.

Several people have already opted to take the bargain. But hundreds are still awaiting their day in court – and that could swamp Wake County's court system. 

Willoughby says he believes deferral is the best way to handle civil disobedience cases.

"What I'm trying to do is recoup some of the costs that have been incurred here locally and put something back into the community to make this a better community for all of us," Willoughby said.

The North Carolina Republican Party, however, said it's not happy with the offer. Spokesman Luther Snyder said the punishment is not sufficient, will not cover the costs of the arrests and won't serve as a deterrent for civil disobedience in the future.

If everyone arrested at Moral Monday protests were to agree to the offer, Willoughby said, it would mean about 25,000 hours of community service for Wake County. 

Protester Belinda Black said she thinks her Moral Monday participation was a form of community service. 

"My friends tell me that I was doing community service by being part of the protest, that I was actually doing something for the community," she said. Black has not decided yet whether she'll take the DA up on his offer.

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