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Collins Law Firm :: Blog

Relaxing Restrictions

February 24th, 2021

Since January of this year, the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, as well as the number of positive tests have decreased significantly. Additionally, at least 1.2 million North Carolinians have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Today, February 24, 2021, Governor Roy Cooper announced that a few COVID-19 restrictions will be eased, this week. A new executive order is set to go into effect this Friday, February 26, 2021 at 5:00 p.m., and last until March 26, 2021.

The following changes will be put into effect this Friday:

  • Bars may reopen for indoor seating with a 30% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less;
  • The statewide curfew from 10:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. will expire;
  • Social gathering limits will be for 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors;
  • Businesses that were operating at 30% capacity will now have a 250-person maximum;
  • Alcohol can be sold at bars and restaurants until 11:00 p.m.;
  • More spectators will be allowed at high school, college, and professional sports events – the number allowed will depend on venue size;
  • Indoor arenas with a 5,000-person capacity will be able to open with 15% capacity, so long as all safety protocols are followed; and
  • Workers, athletes, entertainers, and staff do not count toward the above capacity limits.

Certain restrictions will remain in place, such as the statewide mask mandate, and the 50% capacity limit for businesses and retailers including restaurants, breweries, wineries, retail stores, gyms, museums, aquariums, barbers and personal care venues, pools and outdoor areas of amusement parks.

This news comes as a small sigh of relief for some small businesses who struggled during the shutdown last year – many of which have not yet been able to recover.

With respect to the vaccine rollout, frontline medical workers, teachers, educators, childcare workers, and people over age 65 are currently eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Group 3, which includes other frontline essential workers, will be eligible to get their first dose as of March 10.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Contactless Road Test

February 22nd, 2021

After the passing of House Bill 158 on June 19, 2020, temporarily waiving the road test requirement for level two limited provisional licenses, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV) started to offer road tests to teen drivers again.

House Bill 158 did not address 16- or 17-year-olds seeking a full provisional license – Teen Driver Level 3.  In order to advance to Teen Driver Level 3, one needs to pass a road test.   

NCDMV now offers modified contactless road tests at limited locations by appointment for Level 2 drivers that have received a waiver and now need a road test to advance to Level 3, as well for other qualifying reasons such as: 

  • One previously failed a road test and was never retested prior to March 2020;
  • Governed by lawful and or legal presence status (not permanent residence);
  • Driving privileges were suspended when the previous credential expired;

The road tests developed by NCDMV are now contactless and are held in large parking lots.  This way, the license examiner does not need to sit in the car with the driver. However, only 14 out of 115 driver license offices are equipped to offer these contactless road tests. Also, while one can schedule appointments with the NCDMV online, this option does not currently exist for limited provisional licensees wanting to advance to Level 3.   Due to the limited space for contactless road tests, it may take weeks before one can get an appointment.  You may apply for an appointment by contacting NCDMV by phone at (919) 715-7000, or by email via DMVDS@ncdot.gov.  If you email NCDMV in order to apply for a contactless road test, please include your name, county of residence, driver license or permit number, phone number, and the reason qualifying you to take the contactless road test, i.e. level 2 driver wanting to advance, or previously failed road test, etc.

Please make sure to obey by the strict restrictions for your level of teen driving in order to be able to gain the on-the-road experience necessary to drive a vehicle with no supervision and minimal restrictions, and in order to avoid traffic tickets which may be costly.

However, if you find yourself in need of an attorney because were charged with a traffic violation or crime in New Hanover, Pender, or Brunswick Counties, call Collins Law Firm at (910) 793-9000 for a confidential consultation about how we can help you.

By Jana H. Collins

Bad Winter Weather 2021

February 19th, 2021

Many states in the Midwest, Northeast, and other parts of North America are either under several inches of snow, or are anticipating the same in the near future. Below-normal temperatures, flooding, storms that seem to appear out of nowhere, and power outages have also swept across much of the United States within the past few weeks.

Locally, in Brunswick County, there was a deadly tornado that hit on Monday night, killing three people and injuring ten. According to WECT, it is ideal to have a tornado watch issued hours prior to a storm, in order to warn local citizens that a tornado may be likely in the current conditions. However, for this storm, there was only six minutes between the issuance of the severe thunderstorm warning and the tornado warning. The storm intensified too quickly for Brunswick County Emergency Services to send a timely warning. The Emergency Services Director at the Brunswick County Emergency Services, Edward Conrow, said that he heard the first crack of thunder, and only a few seconds later the tornado touched down. The National Weather Service says the tornado was designated as an EF-3 with estimated wind speeds of about 160 miles per hour (MPH).

The tornado touched down at 2 North Sunset Beach at 11:34 p.m. on Monday night, and dissipated about 22 miles away, at 10 SW Delco in Columbus County by 12:02 a.m. on Tuesday.  In addition to the loss of life the tornado caused, 60 homes were damaged, and over 35,000 people lost power.

There was a community-wide cleanup effort that started before the sun came up on Tuesday, including volunteers from the Red Cross and neighboring communities.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

The Second Chance Act, Part I – North Carolina

January 8th, 2021

The Second Chance Act was signed by Governor Cooper on June 25, 2020, with a unanimous passing at the General Assembly. This new bill, in an effort to expand opportunities and streamline services for expunctions (or expungements), will not only benefit individuals with criminal records, but also law enforcement and court personnel.

Charges that are dismissed without leave, dismissed by the court, acquitted, found not guilty, or not responsible on or after December 1, 2021, will be automatically expunged pursuant to the new North Carolina General Statute §15A-146(a4). Until that date, charges that fall under the same category will need to still be petitioned to be expunged, either by the individual or an attorney. In addition, there will be no disqualification based on prior convictions of felonies or misdemeanors. Under the previous law, individuals with prior felony convictions could not obtain an expunction of a dismissed charge. The new statute also involves no waiting period and no limit on the number of expungements an individual can pursue for dismissed charges.  A petition for expunction may be filed by the affected person or by the District Attorney.

According to the new statute, if any person is charged with a crime, either a misdemeanor or a felony, or is charged with an infraction, the charges in the case are expunged by operation of law if all of the following apply:

(1) All charges in the case are disposed on or after December 1, 2021, and

(2) All charges in the case are dismissed without leave, dismissed by the

court, or result in a finding of not guilty or not responsible.

If you or someone you know is interested in having their record expunged in New Hanover, Pender, or Brunswick County, please give our office a call for a confidential consultation. We also handle serious personal injury and wrongful death cases as well as wills and estates with our of counsel attorney, Mitch Baker.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Light at the End of the Tunnel

January 6th, 2021

2020 was a year of uncertainty, anxiety, and hardship. It may be hard to be optimistic these days, but the prospect of a new year can entice a feeling of hope and optimism.

Country Haven, a neighborhood in Wilmington, North Carolina, helped spread some positivity over the weekend by lining their streets with over 2,000 luminaries. This was a representation of lost loved ones, reflection on 2020, and looking to 2021 with a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Another light at the end of the “COVID Tunnel” could be the vaccines that are being administered in phases, prioritizing medical workers that deal first hand with COVID patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two vaccines, one from Moderna and one from Pfizer, that have to be administered in two separate shots – the Moderna vaccine must be given 28 days apart, and the Pfizer vaccine needs 21 days between the shots. Although it widely depends on how quickly the vaccines are received and then administered, North Carolina healthcare officials are hopeful that everyone that wishes to get the vaccine will be able to, by Summer 2021.

In the meantime, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced today that the modified Stay-At-Home Order that introduced the curfew from 10:00 pm – 5:00 am for nonessential travel, will be extended for at least three more weeks.

As reported by WECT, North Carolinians are directed to:

  • Only leave home for essential activities such as going to work or school, for health care purposes, to care for family members or to buy food.
  • Avoid leaving home if you are over 65 or at high risk for developing serious illness. Use delivery services or alternative pick-up methods for food and retail.
  • Avoid gathering with people who do not live with you.
  • Wear a mask and keep distance from people when you leave home.
  • Avoid any indoor public spaces where people are not wearing masks.
  • Stay away from crowds. Avoid places where people may gather in large numbers.

As the year continues, we hope that there will be more good news to come, more positivity and hope to spread, and we can persevere and make it through 2021!

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

North Carolina Drug Bust – December 2020

December 22nd, 2020

Since November of 2018, there has been an ongoing investigation into drug activities within fraternities on the campuses of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Appalachian State University, and Duke University. 21 people, including alumni of the colleges, were indicted last week on charges ranging from conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, to use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug felony, and distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a public or private college or university. Law enforcement seized almost 150 pounds of marijuana, 442 grams of cocaine, 189 Xanax pills, steroids, HGH, and about $27,775.00 in U.S. Currency.

One individual, Francisco Javier Ochoa, Jr., plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana on November 24, 2020. As a result, he was sentenced to 73 months in prison, five years of supervised probation, and he was ordered to pay the court $250,000.00. The investigation discovered that Ochoa provided cocaine to the fraternities from California via the U.S. Postal Service, and marijuana was transported by car.

As a result of these charges, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has suspended 3 fraternities – Phi Gamma Delta, Kappa Sigma, and Beta Theta Pi, due to their involvement in the purchase and distribution of large amounts of illegal drugs.

Although marijuana is legal in some states, it is not yet legal here in North Carolina, for neither medical nor recreational use.

We hope it will not become necessary, but if you or a loved one find yourself in need of an attorney for a serious personal injury or wrongful death matter, or you get into trouble with a criminal matter, or receive a traffic ticket, please give our office a call for a confidential consultation. We handle matters in New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties. We also handle wills, caveats, and estate litigations with our of counsel attorney, Mitch Baker.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Christmas During a Pandemic

December 18th, 2020

Even though the 2020 holiday season is in full swing, it certainly has a different feel to it this year. As a result of COVID-19, there has been a worldwide shift in how people are celebrating. Less people are expected to travel, and when they do, the typical holiday parties and gatherings are being adjusted or rescheduled to accommodate guidelines by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Forbes, Christmas travel in the United States is being anticipated to drop quite a bit from 2019. 61% less people were screened by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) this year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, than on the same day in 2019.

With respect to how to safely gather for the holidays with your family, the CDC recommends that the safest bet is staying home, of course. However, if you will be gathering with family, the CDC recommends that you try to gather outdoors if possible, and try to keep at least 6 feet apart between people who do not share the same household. Rather than having a buffet style meal where everyone gathers around the food at once, another option could be to prepare plates ahead of time with disposable utensils, so that guests can get their food one by one and go back to their seats.

Law enforcement has their work cut out for them for this holiday season. Not only do they normally have to work tirelessly through the holidays to keep us safe, but this year is exceptionally tough due to COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on us, and the lack of guidelines regarding the enforcement of same.

We hope it will not become necessary, but if you or a loved one find yourself in need of an attorney for a serious personal injury or wrongful death matter, or you get into trouble with a criminal matter, or receive a traffic ticket, please give our office a call for a confidential consultation. We handle matters in New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties. If you have court in Brunswick County, the Courthouse is located in Bolivia, North Carolina, and includes Sunset Beach, Holden Beach, and Ocean Isle Beach. If you receive a ticket in Topsail Beach or Surf City, you will need to go to the Pender County Courthouse, which is located in Burgaw, North Carolina. If you get a ticket in Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington Beach, Carolina Beach, or Kure Beach, you will have court in New Hanover County, which is located in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina. We also handle wills, caveats, and estate litigations with our of counsel attorney, Mitch Baker.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Phase 3 Continued

December 11th, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper announced this Wednesday that North Carolina will remain in Phase 3 of reopening for another 3 weeks, due to the increased number of COVID-19 cases in our State.

Starting this Friday, December 11, 2020, Executive Order 181 will require people to stay at home between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. Sales of alcohol on-site at restaurants and bars will stop at 9:00 p.m., and the restaurants and bars must close by 10:00 p.m. This modification of the stay-at-home order is to try to prevent people from gathering in bars and restaurants unnecessarily.

Phase 3 began on October 2, 2020, putting limits on times that alcohol can be purchased, and limits on how many people can be gathered together at one time indoors.

New Hanover County was one of 36 counties that received a letter from the North Carolina health department, urging everyone to follow guidelines extra cautiously, due 300 or more spikes in cases over the past 14 days in these 36 counties.

In addition, the Chief Justice intends to issue an emergency directive postponing non-essential, in-person court proceedings for 30 days, beginning Monday, December 14, 2020.

In more positive news, there are 11 hospitals and healthcare facilities in North Carolina that will receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine hopefully by mid-December, if one is approved. The initial supply of vaccines is intended to go to these healthcare facilities to vaccinate nurses and other health care workers who are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

State and public health officials will continue to keep an eye on COVID-19 trends over the next several weeks to discuss if additional restrictions need to be put in place.

As Christmas 2020 approaches, we hope it will not become necessary, but if you or a loved one find yourself in need of an attorney for a serious personal injury, or you get into trouble with a criminal matter, or receive a traffic ticket, please give our office a call for a confidential consultation. We handle matters in New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties. If you have court in Brunswick County, the Courthouse is located in Bolivia, North Carolina. The New Hanover County Courthouse is located in Wilmington, and the Pender County Courthouse is located in Burgaw, North Carolina. We also handle wills and estates with our of counsel attorney, Mitch Baker. 

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Halloween Weekend 2020

October 30th, 2020

As Halloween Weekend 2020 approaches, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program’s annual Booze It & Lose It Campaign is in full swing through early next week. The campaign partners with law enforcement across the State to not only enforce traffic laws by setting up sobriety checkpoints in all 100 counties, but to also raise awareness and educate the public on how dangerous it is to drive distracted or impaired.

Since October sets off the holiday season, it is considered one of the deadliest months of the year with respect to traffic accidents, according to the Highway Safety Program. As individuals head out to go to costume parties and trick or treating, there are higher chances for drunk driving and pedestrian accidents.

In addition, this weekend marks the end of Daylight Savings Time in North America, so we get an extra hour to party, eat candy, and watch Halloween movies, but do not forget to turn your clocks back an hour!

Also, as COVID restrictions continue to be enforced, some individuals may wonder how they can celebrate Halloween safely, and with minimal social contact with others who are not in their household. Some creative ideas could be to wear a Halloween face mask to pass out candy, or to make individual candy bags for trick or treaters to pick up on their own. Another idea could be to transform your front yard into a candy graveyard, leaving the candy around a path for kids to collect. There are also printable signs online that you can hang on your door to inform your neighbors that you are safely passing out candy this year.

We hope that everyone has a fun, but safe, Halloween weekend! However, if you find yourself in need of an attorney because you or someone you know has been hurt in an accident, or was charged with a traffic violation or crime in New Hanover, Pender, or Brunswick Counties, call Collins Law Firm at (910) 793-9000 for a confidential consultation about how we can help you.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Easier Access to a Clean Record

October 6th, 2020

In December 2017, the availability of the expunction (or expungement) process for convictions had been drastically improved by Senate Bill 445.  Now we are looking at yet more changes. On June 25, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 562, a.k.a. The Second Chance Act, which will ease previous requirements, allowing even more individuals with a criminal history to have a chance at clearing their record. While some changes become effective December 1, 2020, the most sweeping changes – the automatic expunction of dismissals or acquittals by operation of law – will not become effective until December 1, 2021.  Below are a few examples of the modifications to the expunction laws that will apply to offenses committed by individuals of at least 18 years of age:

In addition to felonies and misdemeanors, infractions will be eligible for expunction as long as the charges were dismissed or for which a finding of not guilty or not responsible was entered.  Also, it will no longer be required that the person had not previously been convicted of a felony to pursue an expunction for a dismissed or not guilty charge.

Felonies, misdemeanors, or infractions that were dismissed or for which a finding of not guilty or not responsible was entered on or after December 1, 2021, will be automatically expunged by operation of law, not requiring a petition.

Also, pursuant to The Second Chance Act, a person may file a petition for expunction of more than just one nonviolent misdemeanor convictions, but in that case will have to wait seven years rather than only five years in order to do so.

The team at Collins Law Firm has been handling scores of expunctions for over 20 years in New Hanover County, Pender County, and Brunswick County.  If you are interested in having your record expunged, please give our office a call at (910) 793-9000 for a confidential consultation to discuss your eligibility.

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal