Published: Monday, May 4, 2015 at 6:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 4, 2015 at 6:46 p.m.
SOUTHEASTERN N.C. | Later this week, courts from five Southeastern North Carolina counties will forgive veterans and their spouses for failures to appear and orders for arrest via an amnesty program that will be the first of its kind in North Carolina, officials announced Monday.
“We’re talking about amnesty, not immunity,” said Jon David, the district attorney for Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties. “Amnesty basically means you get to start with a clean slate again. It’s a pathway to get people back in the court system who have bounced out of the court and give them a second chance to make things right.”
The amnesty session will happen from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the New Hanover County Courthouse, 316 Princess St. in Wilmington. While walk-ins are possible, attendees were urged to schedule appointments so their files can be pulled.
Veterans and their spouses from Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties are eligible to attend the event. Charges that can be heard Friday will include failures to appear, nonviolent misdemeanors, failure to pay fines and minor traffic matters.
Ben David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties, said he has often seen veterans charged with minor misdemeanors or traffic violations who don’t appear in court. Those vets, he said, aren’t ducking the charges, but have instead been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq or another conflict.
“This is a recognition that veterans have unique challenges that through their time in service might have affected their ability to be in a courtroom,” he said.
To make the event possible, the N.C. Administrative Office of Courts had to issue a special commission allowing judges from the 13th district – including Bladen, Brunswick and Columbus counties – to hear cases from those counties Friday in New Hanover County.
Friday’s event could be a model for others across the state, said Tom Murry, the N.C. Administrative Office of Courts’ chief legal counsel for governmental affairs.
“We’d like to see other district attorneys and district court judges replicate this across the state of North Carolina so we can continue to make sure North Carolina is the most veteran-friendly state in the country,” Murry said.
Monday’s announcement was met positively by veterans both in the region and across the state.
Steve Muir, a member of American Legion Post 543, based in St. James, said resolving minor charges and waiving failures to appears or orders for arrest could help veterans find employment.
“Today’s veterans are astute enough to understand if a program is being offered that will benefit them,” Muir said, while adding those eligible for the program will still be held accountable for their actions.
John Turner, the executive director of the Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina, said, in a statement, “I applaud the judges and other judicial officials for reaching out with an innovative approach for dealing with one aspect of the problems faced by veterans returning from combat service.”