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Durham Expands Clean Slate Opportunity For First Time Misdemeanor Offenders

A man in handcuffs.
Lionel Allorge
Durham's misdemeanor diversion program will expand to include first time offenders ages 21 and under.

Durham is expanding a program that allows young first-time offenders to remove a misdemeanor conviction from their record.

Previously available to 16 and 17 year olds, those 21 and under can complete the misdemeanor diversion program beginning in October. Instead of facing jail time or a fine, participants go to court, attend workshops and do community service work.

Durham Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey says during a typical misdemeanor court appearance, an offender is able to have just a few seconds before a judge, plead guilty, and pay a fine.

Morey says this misdemeanor diversion program holds young offenders more accountable.

"You'll have to come to a court session. The judge will show you what could have happened in court, and then they're going to have to spend 10 hours at an appropriate treatment. So, they really learn the consequences of their actions," says Morey. "This isn't a slap on the hand. It's really trying to educate the young person how to live a life without any criminal record."

Morey says a misdemeanor can hurt a young person's chances at college or a job.

"Most of the kids we've seen have misdemeanor marijuana charges, perhaps shoplifting, disorderly conduct... things where they have not thought through their actions. These are not kids that are a danger to the community."

The arresting officer has a say in an offender's eligibility.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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