Grantee probes prosecutors’ methods that lead to lengthy prison terms in North Carolina

Jalen Burnette, 17, stands for a portrait outside his home in Winston-Salem on May 10. In 2007, Jalen's father, Sherrod Nichols, pleaded guilty to charges related to a string of armed robberies in Forsyth and Guilford counties and was sentenced to 18-24 years in prison. Photo: Mike Belleme / Carolina Public Press

Carolina Public Press has launched a multi-part series examining “charge stacking” in North Carolina and its role in plea bargaining and disparities in sentencing. This is the practice prosecutors use to bring multiple charges against defendants to pressure them to plead guilty to some charges. With support from the Fund, Jacob Biba reported on the experience of Terence Smith, a Black man from Winston-Salem who was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison for his role in a failed drug deal. Initially charged with only two crimes, Smith faced five more charges tacked on by prosecutors after he turned down a 10-year plea deal. The series also explores the nuts and bolts of charge stacking and plea bargaining, as well as the emotional toll it takes on defendants’ family members.