Incumbent Freeman moves on to general election in Wake County DA’s race

·3 min read

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman won the Democratic primary and will move on to face a Republican challenger in November’s general election.

With all 208 precincts reporting, Freeman had 59% of the vote to challenger Damon Chetson’s 41%.

Chetson conceded to Freeman in an email sent at 10 p.m.

“While District Attorney Freeman and I have our differences on policy, she has the experience and commitment to public service that is essential for Wake County,” he wrote.

Freeman will now face Republican Jeff Dobson in the Nov. 8 general election.

Freeman vs. Chetson

The primary served as a test of whether Freeman’s measured approach still connects with Wake voters after nationwide calls for criminal justice reform following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and other killings by police.

Freeman says her office has made strides by revising pretrial release, providing diversion programs to people with addictions and mental health problems, and collaborating to help people who re-enter the community after incarceration.

But Chetson and others contended that Freeman wasn’t doing enough to recognize and address the disparities that plague the criminal justice system at all levels.

Chetson, a defense attorney for more than 12 years, had pledged to not seek the death penalty, not prosecute low-level marijuana offenses and not seek life sentences for young people under 18.

“My message of ending the death penalty particularly for the severely mentally ill, ending prosecution of adult-use quantities of marijuana, and pushing to increase the size of the Wake County DA’s office to make us all safe is resonating with voters across Wake,” Chetson had written in a text to The News & Observer.

Freeman refused to pledge not to use the death penalty. She disagrees with dismissing low-level marijuana charges and banning use of capital punishment.

Low-level drug charges can be deferred by participating in county programs that connect people to resources to get help with drug abuse or other issues, she said.

“Absolutely prosecutors have an obligation and duty to constantly be looking for ways to correct disparities in the system and improve the fairness, but we also have the responsibility to uphold the law and keep the community safe,” Freeman said.

Fundraising, support from groups

Freeman had raised nearly $161,000 through the end of April. Chetson raised more than $110,000.

Local, regional, state and national groups have pushed for more progressive change through press conferences, websites and, in some cases, spending big money on mailers, billboards and canvassing.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina launched a $200,000 voter education campaign in the weeks before the election, highlighting the candidates’ differences on the issues.

The Forward Justice Action Network also spent nearly $105,000 last month on another voter education campaign. The network is the lobbying arm of Forward Justice, a Triangle-based civil rights advocacy nonprofit.

The Wake County district attorney handles the state’s corruption and government malfeasance cases in addition to running an office with about 70 employees who handle over 100,000 criminal infractions and violations each year. The DA makes $140,834 annually.

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