The main characters in Charged are Kevin, Noura Jackson, and Amy Weirich.
- Kevin is a young man from Brownsville in New York City who is arrested for possession of a gun without a permit. He is placed in a diversion program instead of being sentenced to jail time.
- Noura Jackson is a young woman from Memphis, Tennessee, who is charged with murdering her mother and spends over eight years in prison before being released on an Alford guilty plea.
- Amy Weirich is the district attorney who prosecutes Noura Jackson’s case and has Noura convicted despite a lack of concrete evidence.
Kevin is a young man growing up in a housing project in Brownsville, a high-crime and high-poverty community in Brooklyn, New York. His is one of two cases the author dissects to understand criminal justice proceedings.
Kevin is, generally, a good kid, but there are frequent fights between residents of his housing project and ones from others nearby. He doesn’t make a habit of starting the fights himself, but he also doesn’t shy away from defending himself when one arises. Despite the prevalence of weapons in his community, he has a strict personal code—there may be no avoiding violence in Brownsville, but he only fights with his fists. He doesn’t want the trouble that weapons bring.
After panicking and picking up a gun to hide it when the police come to arrest his friend one day, Kevin is accused of having a gun without a permit. His personal code of ethics also precludes snitching on other members of the community, so he doesn't correct the officers when they determine the gun belongs to him, and he’s arrested for possession.
His prosecutor, Caryn Teitelman, decides to grant Kevin a chance at a diversion program instead of putting him directly through the justice system to face jail time. There are a few hiccups—he’s arrested once during the program on an invalid loitering charge—but he’s determined to succeed. He does well and completes the program, and his charges are dismissed. By the time he’s done, he’s proud to be employed and helping his mom financially for the first time.
Bazelon notes that per Kevin’s request, he’s been identified in the text using a pseudonym.
Noura Jackson, accused of her mother’s murder, is the other case Bazelon tracks through the court system.
At the time of the murder, Noura is eighteen and living with her mother, Jennifer, in a middle-class neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. She comes home from a long night out with friends to discover her mother’s body. Before long, finds that she's suspected of the crime herself despite a complete lack of physical evidence tying her to the scene.
When she’s accused, her family abandons her. To stave off her loneliness, Noura takes solace in her friends, inviting them over regularly to keep her company. This is cast by Amy Weirich, her prosecutor, as callous—she’s grieving “the wrong way,” Weirich insists.
Noura can’t fathom signing a plea deal if it means falsely admitting to having killed her own mother, so she goes to trial. Despite her high hopes, she’s convicted and sentenced to more than twenty years in prison.
When Weirich’s misconduct becomes apparent and Noura is finally granted a new trial, her lawyers convince her to sign an Alford guilty plea—if she’ll admit that the state has all the evidence it needs to convict her, she’ll be released sooner and can still formally maintain her innocence. To Noura, getting out sooner means she might still have time to become a mother, so she signs and is released.
After her ordeal, Noura moves to New York City with the help of Jason Flom, one of the founding boardmembers of the Innocence Project. Together, they work on piecing her case back together in the hopes of eventually solving her mother’s murder with the help of DNA evidence.
Amy Weirich, a high-profile Memphis district attorney, prosecutes Noura’s case. From the outset, she is determined to get a...
(The entire section is 995 words.)