WELCH — Becoming McDowell County’s new prosecuting attorney has been a goal that lifelong county resident Brittany Puckett has had ever since she decided to pursue a law career, and now that goal is only a swearing-in ceremony away from being fulfilled.
In June, Brittany Puckett ran on the Democratic ticket and won the primary race for McDowell County prosecuting attorney. Since there was no challenger during the Nov. 3 general election, Puckett ran unopposed.
“It was just always something that I wanted to do, just a lifelong dream,” Puckett said. “I’m first-generation college. I grew up in Bartley, which is here in the county. My dad, Wesley, is a coal miner and still works as a coal miner. My mom, Libby, works for McDowell County Schools. She has worked there for 20-some years. I’ve grown up here. I went to law school in Grundy. They focus a lot on the Appalachian culture, so I went to law school relatively close by. I wanted to stay here and give back to the community that I’ve lived in and I hope to stay here.”
Puckett graduated from Concord University in 2007 and interned at Child Law in Princeton as part of her undergraduate work.
“I knew I wanted to go into the legal field when I interned at Child Law,” she recalled. “That was what I really wanted to do, and a lot of my focus is on juveniles, abuse and neglect cases. That goes back to me teaching, too. One of the programs I’d like to start is a teen court program. That’s something that we’re looking into starting down here.”
Puckett became a teacher in McDowell County after graduating from the Appalachian School of Law and taught fifth-grade students for about five years before going to work with the McDowell County Public Defender’s Office. In January 2019, she started working at the county prosecutor’s office as an assistant prosecutor.
“I didn’t want to go out on my own just yet, and when this position came open, I applied for it. It’s always been a goal of mine to work in the prosecutor’s office and one day run for prosecuting attorney,” Puckett recalled.
Now that Puckett is about to become the county’s prosecuting attorney, she’s eager to get to work.
“It’s just always been a lifelong goal of mine to be the prosecuting attorney for McDowell County,” she stated. “I’m just honored and grateful for the people electing me and supporting me, and I look forward to really serving them.”
Puckett said she wants to make sure victims have input in their cases.
“One of the biggest things I want to incorporate or focus on is our victims,” she said. “I think a lot of times the victims don’t think they have the input that they want when it comes to pleas or trials, or anything like that. That’s the one thing I want to make sure that they’re involved from the very beginning and that they know that they can call this office. They’re going to get a return phone call and they’re going to be informed. Nothing’s going to happen without them knowing.”
Puckett said she wants to make sure that the victims know what’s going on with their cases and get pending cases into court.
“We have a backlog anyway due to Covid. We’ll try to really work through those cases,” she said. “The cases that have not been presented to the grand jury, really hit those in February.”
Working with the law enforcement community and the victims when pleas are considered will be important, Puckett said.
“I want to make sure that our officers have the support that they need, make sure they are seen in a positive light in the community and make sure everything is just open and honest,” she said.
Puckett said her experience at the public defender’s office helps her make sure that everybody will have justice. People should have justice regardless of who they are, where they are from or their social standing.
“By being on the public defender’s side, I know it’s not about a conviction. It’s about making sure that justice is served to me, you; it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your social standing is, it’s that the right thing is done,” she said.
On the subject of pleas, Puckett said that as an assistant prosecutor, she has always made sure that investigating officers, victims and victims' families know about them and have input. If the officers and the victims approve of a plea agreement, it will be presented in court.
“If either one says no, we’ll take it to trial,” she said. “I definitely try to get the officers, the victims and the victims’ families' input before we do anything. That’s where I am with that.”
Puckett said she plans to be tough on repeat offenders whom the courts have seen multiple times and to be tough on violent offenders.
“No more slaps on the wrists,” she said. “The repeat offenders and the sexually or violent offenders, we’re going to be tough on those crimes and just make sure that is taken care of and not just ignored.”
In other matters, Puckett said the county just started a family drug treatment court.
“There’s only five or six in the state, and we are implementing that program for any families that have a DHHR abuse and neglect case where drugs are the primary concerning issue,” she said. “They can be placed into the family treatment court and they’ll help them with counseling, provide extra services, and that helps them with their drug addiction. We’ve got a lot of people signed up and on board with that. We have a new seven-day detox rehab at the hospital. We’ve got a lot of good support. We’re still waiting on our first participants, but we’ve got a lot going on.”