Two candidates running for district attorney in North Carolina’s 26th Prosecutorial District

Incumbent Spencer Merriweather and Tim Emry are running in the Democratic primary for district attorney of North Carolina’s 26th Prosecutorial District in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on May 17, 2022. No candidates filed to run in the Republican primary.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) appointed Merriweather as district attorney in November 2017. Merriweather ran for a full term in 2018, won the Democratic primary 78-22, and was unopposed in the general election. From 2007 to 2017, he was an assistant district attorney in Mecklenburg County. Merriweather is the county’s first Black district attorney.

Merriweather said that under his leadership, the district attorney’s office had “focused on the most serious and violent offenses in an effort to support victims, obtain justice, and create safer streets and communities” and that he had “implemented new strategies to confront violent crime … creating special units that prioritize the prosecution of gun crimes, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.” The Charlotte Observer’s Michael Gordon wrote, “Asked what distinguishes him from Emry, Merriweather describes himself as a proven reformer who remains committed to the law, a safer community and building on what he describes as ‘a career of experience serving victims.’”

The Charlotte Post, which endorsed Merriweather, described him as a “thoughtful pragmatist who has balanced policy reforms and alternatives to prosecution with efforts to keep a growing urban community safe.” The Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg also endorsed Merriweather.

Emry, a criminal defense attorney, was a Mecklenburg County assistant public defender and worked for a criminal defense law firm before founding The Emry Law Firm in 2012. He said, “The number one pillar of our campaign is holding the police accountable when they break the law.” Emry said another priority would be to “immediately stop the mass incarceration policies of the current DA’s office and begin to pursue racial justice.” He also said he would “never seek the death penalty,” which he said “doesn’t deter crime, is immoral, and racist.” He said, “Too often in this country, we have sentenced the wrong people to death. … Well, my opponent supports the death penalty.”

Real Justice PAC, which says it “has been at the forefront of local elections, ushering in prosecutors who have promised to transform a criminal legal system that is racist, oppressive, and preys on the poor and marginalized,” endorsed Emry. The group’s endorsement said, “Tim is running as a progressive challenge to the left of the incumbent. … Merriweather, a moderate, has largely continued the same failed tough on crime policies that don’t increase public safety and lead to mass incarceration. Tim is running to bring genuine change to the criminal justice system in Mecklenburg and to end the failed status quo policies.”

Gordon wrote in April, “Emry is considered a significant longshot to unseat Merriweather … Nonetheless, Emry’s campaign has been relentless in promising specific reforms and attempting to tie Merriweather to what Emry describes as a racist and destructive status quo.”

There are 43 prosecutorial districts in North Carolina. The district attorney for the 26th Prosecutorial District has jurisdiction to prosecute non-federal crimes occurring in Mecklenburg County. The Mecklenburg County district attorney’s office has the largest caseload in the state, prosecuting around 10,000 felonies and 200,000 misdemeanors or traffic violations per year. Responsibilities of the district attorney include representing the state in criminal prosecutions, advising law enforcement, and overseeing assistant district attorneys, victim-witness legal assistants, investigators, and other staff.