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Collins Law Firm :: Blog

Green Shoots for Easter

April 9th, 2020

For a child, Easter can mean fancy attire, hunting for Easter eggs, and lots of candy.  The hunt to find the best egg with the biggest prize was something to wake up to excited about Easter Sunday.  Now, as an adult, we tend to appreciate holidays and their meanings a little more, and sometimes wonder why or how holidays are celebrated. 

Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The Paschal Full Moon is the first full Moon that occurs after the vernal equinox, which signifies the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.  This date is to make sure that it is always after the Jewish holiday Passover because you cannot have his death and resurrection celebrations occur before his last supper which was on Passover. 

While the current pandemic has forced us to change or postpone any Easter plans with large gatherings of people, there is still good news out there.  The term “green shoots” describes any positive sign of economic recovery during a downturn.  Referencing the new growth and recovery of a plant, the term first gained popularity back in 1991 when Chancellor Norman Lamont used it to describe indications of economic recovery in the United Kingdom.  Almost 20 years later, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke used the term in a 2009 interview about the financial crisis. 

Although there are people all over the world who are suffering, whether it be from sickness, loss of their job, or the stress of everything going on around them, there are small signs of recovery happening around us.  For instance, two U.S. companies, BD and BioMedomics, have recently launched a rapid antibody test for COVID-19, which will be able to tell who was infected with the virus, and has since recovered.  An antibody test is great news because it will be able to help scientists develop a vaccine, and also help them figure out who has immunity for future infection of the virus, if at all.  Hopefully the tests will be ready for public use within a few months. 

Another “green shoot” example would be the expectation of pent-up demand to pump the economy back up after people have been isolating in their homes for so long.  There could be periods of overspending by individuals at restaurants and non-essential retailers who sell clothing, cosmetics, and home goods.  This is a good indication that our economy will be able to recover after a period of unease and difficulty. 

Stay safe and healthy, and have a Happy Easter!

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Expunction of Record

April 6th, 2020

Expungement is a legal action in which the petitioner or plaintiff seeks that the court seals or destroys prior criminal convictions from State or Federal official records. Until December 1, 2017, a person could pursue an Expunction only once in their lifetime in the state of North Carolina. However, with the ratification of Senate Bill 445 on July 28, 2017, the accessibility of the expunction process has been drastically improved effective December 1, 2017. Unless an individual has a felony conviction on their record, there is no limit on how many charges that individual can get expunged off their record as long as they meet the eligibility criteria. Without an expungement, criminal charges remain on one’s record even when there is no conviction.

At this time, expunctions are taking anywhere from about six months to one year.  However, the expected time frame for an expunction may be affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

When considering an expungement, you should be aware of the fact that criminal records collected by private entities, including but not limited to online news sites, may still show indications of the charges after they are expunged. The reason for that is that those private entities may collect records between the time the criminal charge is issued and the time it is expunged. Therefore, it is a good idea to proceed with an expungement as soon as possible to decrease the chance that private companies collect their information which they may keep forever.

Chapter 15A of the North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) provides for some private entities to remove expunged records from their data bases after an order of expunction is entered. N.C.G.S. §15A-150 states: A state agency [receiving notice of an expungement shall notify any private entity with which it has a licensing agreement for bulk extracts of data from [a state] agency criminal record database to delete the record in question. N.C.G.S. §15A-152 states that: A private entity that holds itself out as being in the business of compiling and disseminating criminal history record information for compensation shall destroy and shall not disseminate any information in the possession of the entity with respect to which the entity has received a notice to delete the record in question. It also provides for civil liability for failure to do so with a certain time period. N.C.G.S. §15A-153 provides that: Employers, educational institutions, State or Local Government Agencies, Officials, and Employees shall not, in any application, interview, or otherwise, require an applicant for employment or admission to disclose information concerning any arrest, criminal charge, or criminal conviction of the applicant that has been expunged and shall not knowingly and willingly inquire about any arrest, charge, or conviction that they know to have been expunged. An applicant need not, in answer to any question concerning any arrest or criminal charge that has not resulted in a conviction, include a reference to or information concerning arrests, charges, or convictions that have been expunged.

Also, even though expungement statutes prohibit prosecution for perjury for failing to acknowledge the charges which were expunged, it would be untrue to deny the fact that one was charged, even though the statutes apparently intend to allow for an individual to deny the fact that the arrest, charges, and other criminal proceedings occurred. Even with the protections of the statutes, there are many ways in which information about the expunged criminal matter can be discovered, and people should consider the individual circumstances and the exact wording of any questions in applications when deciding exactly how to respond.

Mr. Collins 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

Palm Sunday

April 5th, 2020

Today, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday, and it is the first day of the Holy Week.  Palm Sunday serves as memorial of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  Palm branches, which in ancient times symbolized goodness and victory, were placed in Jesus’ path when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. 

The observance of Palm Sunday dates back to the late 3rd century when people traveled Jerusalem and visited many of the holy sites within the town, sang hymns, prayed, and read the Bible.  When they arrived at the place where Jesus ascended into heaven, they recited the Bible Story of the Ascension of Jesus. 

In the Western World however, the earliest evidence of the observance of Palm Sunday can be found in the 8th century in the Bobbio Missal, a Christian liturgical codex that most likely originated in France. During the Middle Ages, the ritual observances and procedures performed for the blessings of the palms were grand. After reforms of the Roman Catholic Church in the mid-20th century, the ceremonies were simplified and the focus was directed more toward the suffering and death of Jesus.

This year however, the commemoration of Palm Sunday is very different because due to the pending COVID-19 pandemic, our churches are closed and people are prohibited from gathering for any purpose.  Congregations in Southeastern North Carolina, in New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties, turn to social media and virtual platforms like Zoom, they share devotions, and post pictures of arts and crafts which they created in celebration of Palm Sunday.

By Jana H. Collins

Some Good News

April 3rd, 2020

There was a record-breaking $2 trillion stimulus that was passed last week by the U.S. Government, in an effort to provide relief to Americans who have been laid off, or have suffered income loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Among the $2 trillion, $350 billion will be used for small business loans, $250 billion to be distributed for unemployment insurance benefits and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies. 

The North Carolina Division of Employment Security has amended the eligibility requirements for filing for unemployment during this time of crisis.  For example, independent contractors and self-employed individuals would normally not be eligible for unemployment benefits, but they may qualify for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as a result of COVID-19.  In addition, the usual weekly requirements for Unemployment Insurance have been modified for people to still be able to claim benefits while still being employed. 

There have been multiple photos shared around social media of usually-busy tourist destinations that are now deserted because of the virus and the global quarantining that is happening because of it.  There is less traveling going on, which in turn means less air pollution.  In Venice, the famous canals that are usually murky have turned clear enough to see the fish because of the lack of traveling and tourists in the area, and less traffic along the canals have allowed the sediment to settle at the bottom.  

In other positive news, actor John Krasinski has started a series called Some Good News, where he discusses news-style stories in his home office of happy news shared from around the world. 

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Finding Silver Linings

April 1st, 2020

As of Wednesday, April 1, New Hanover County has 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Some good news, among all of the negative, is that there is a new rapid response test made by Abbott.  Since receiving emergency-use authorization, Abbott has been kicking production into high gear, in order to deliver 50,000 ID NOW COVID-19 tests per day to small doctor’s offices and healthcare sites throughout the United States beginning next week.

Also, Governor Roy Cooper issued another Executive Order on March 31, 2020, that prohibits utility companies from disconnecting services to customers who are unable to pay their bills for the next 60 days.  The order also directs utility companies to give residential customers at least 6 months to pay their outstanding balance, with no threat of fees, penalties, or interest for late payment.  Governor Cooper also urges North Carolina -licensed or -regulated banks not to charge for overdraft fees, late fees or any other penalties in this time of crisis.  The NC Department of Revenue also announced tax relief measures today, relieving taxpayers of penalties for late filing. 

Apart from the assistance offered to citizens with respect to their utility bills, bank fees, and taxes, there is also a strong sense of community being formed and upheld here in New Hanover County.  There have been stories of caravans of teachers who parade by their student’s houses with decorated cars to let them know they are missed, groups of volunteers are passing out food and other essentials to older people or individuals who are more at risk of catching the virus, and there are several stations set up around the County where people can pick up free breakfast and lunch for underprivileged students. 

Stay safe, everyone! 

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Robert D. Raiford—A Man Ahead of His Time

March 31st, 2020

Robert D. Raiford was a well-known radio personality on the John Boy and Billy Big Show.  He suffered a stroke in August of 2015, and retired from the show the next summer.  He died in 2017 at age 89.  He was known for being against handshaking, and he wrote in a viewpoint in the Charlotte Observer titled “For everyone’s good health, let’s stop shaking hands”  published on October 23, 2014:  “No matter how much hand sanitizer is used nor how many times the hands are washed, the contact is instantaneous. In these days of international air travel it becomes an exponential issue. You don’t know how many hands that hand extended to you has shaken before it is presented in all its bareness for you to squeeze and shake vigorously … and vice versa.  If you must have some body contact, make a quick fist bump or elbow bump. Best move is eye contact and a snappy salute. Just resist the Pavlovian move to shake hands.”

As of Monday, March 30, 2020 at 5:30 p.m., there were 30 positive cases of the virus in New Hanover County.  Currently, as are most other states, North Carolina is struggling to receive the appropriate testing equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be able to perform proper testing.   However, new testing is being made available daily, as well as the promise of a new rapid response test for the virus.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave Abbott, the maker of a new test, emergency-use authorization of their test, with hopes it will be available for the public soon.

With the pandemic of COVID-19, there has been stories of people panic-buying all of the cleaning supplies in every store in town, and fear mongering by way of misinformation whether it be about a cure, the testing results, or the virus itself.  We encourage you to make sure the information you are reading and sharing is reputable with credible sources.  

Steps that everyone can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 include: 

  • Comply with the Governor’s Stay at Home Order and New Hanover County restrictions. 
  • Follow proper social distancing protocols. Don’t gather in groups of more than 10 and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
  • Stay home if you are sick, even if you are an essential worker. And cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched (like your phone, tablet, countertops and daily work surfaces).
  • Check credible resources, such as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), for new and evolving information. 

Stay well!

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Own a Pet – Be Considerate

March 27th, 2020

During these trying times, while everyone has been strongly suggested to stay home when they can, the only thing to do to get out of the house may be to take your pets on a walk.  However, with more pets out and about, it is still important to abide by the laws with respect to having your pet on a leash, or some type of restraint when it is not on your property. 

Section 5-9 of the New Hanover County Ordinance states:

a. It shall be unlawful for any owner of a dog, cat, or ferret to allow it to run at large off the premises of its owner.

b. Upon an animal services officer’s observation of a dog, cat, or ferret running at large, or off the premises of its owner and not under the restraint of a competent person, the officer, may, at his discretion, impound the dog, cat, or ferret or return it to its owner.

c. Upon an animal services officer’s receipt of a complaint that a dog, cat, or ferret is running at large or is off the premises of its owner and not under the restraint of a competent person, the officer shall investigate the complaint; and upon finding that there is probable cause that a violation has occurred, the officer may issue a citation or a warning or take any other action contained in this chapter or any state law as the circumstances may require.

d. Any owner cited for a violation of this chapter may discharge the citation upon payment of the current fee schedule adopted by the board county commissioners. If the dog, cat, or ferret is impounded, the owner may redeem the dog, cat, or ferret under the provisions of section 5-17, provided the owner is in compliance with all other applicable provisions of this chapter. If the owner is charged under a warrant, summons, or bill of indictment and convicted, the provisions of section 5-23 shall apply.

A violation would constitute a class 3 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.00.

There are strict leash laws for the beaches here in Wilmington, as well – in the Town of Wrightsville Beach, pets must always be on a leash from October 1 through March 31.  From April 1 through September 30, no pets are allowed on the Wrightsville Beach Strand at all.  It is also required that you clean up after your pet, and have the means to do so at all times.  Similarly, in Carolina Beach, dogs have to be on a leash from April 1 to September 30.  The rest of the year (October 1st-March 31st) dogs are allowed off leash, but they must remain under voice command and the owner must be within a reasonable distance.  At North Topsail Beach, dogs must be on a leash from May 15 through September 30.  From October 1 to May 14, dogs are not required to be on a leash, but must be under voice command of a responsible person. 

While we are all on edge and awaiting news about COVID-19 day by day, please take some time to take your pet on a walk to enjoy some fresh air, but also please be responsible, abide by the laws, and respect your neighbors. 

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

NC Courts and Driver License Offices – Change in Accessibility

March 26th, 2020

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared a State of Emergency, and accordingly, Cheri Beasley, Chief Justice, declared on March 13, 2020, pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-39(b)(2), that due to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, catastrophic conditions exist in all counties of this state in order to limit the risk of further spread of COVID-19.  Therefore, all superior court and district court proceedings, with only very few exceptions, were ordered to be calendared or re-calendared for at least 30 days from the issuance of this order. 

Not just the accessibility of the courts is limited in this trying time, but driver license offices as well—the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NCDMV) closed about 60 offices effective March 18, 2020, which did not have large enough space to allow for NCDMV to obey by the social distancing guidelines by the Center of Disease Control (CDC).  And, the offices that provide in-person services, only allow customers who have scheduled an appointment.  However, should you seek a service which requires a road test, for example if you want to obtain a Teen Driver Level 2 or limited provisional license, then you are currently unable to schedule an appointment with NCDMV, because road tests are suspended, except for commercial driver license and medical reevaluation. 

Should you need to schedule an appointment with NCDMV you can do so by calling 919-715-7000, but be prepared for lengthy hold times.  For some locations, appointments can be scheduled online. 

By Jana H. Collins

Be Responsible – Plan Ahead

March 24th, 2020

When the time in one’s life comes and there is a need for assistance with a living will, estate planning, guardianship, or a health care power of attorney, contacting an attorney with experience can help make this overwhelming and uncomfortable time a little easier. 

A living will, or an advance directive for a natural death, is a collection of legal documents that outlines your preferences and certain decisions with respect to your future health care.  Please note that a living will does not have an effect on the property of a decedent. 

With estate planning, the money and other property a decedent had to their name when they passed is distributed to friends/family as desired by the decedent.  A will, or last will and testament, is a set of documents that was created while the decedent was alive, and determines where the decedent’s money and property will be distributed to after their death. 

A health care power of attorney is someone who is chosen by the individual who cannot make health care decisions on their own, and will assist with important decisions and health care management.

Guardianship for an individual is decided by the clerk of superior court when ones mental capacity does not allow for them to make that choice on their own, and is someone who will help an individual with their health care decisions and their health care management. 

If you or a loved one needs help with a living will, estate, guardianship, or a healthcare power of attorney in Southeastern North Carolina, in or around Wilmington, NC, in New Hanover County, Brunswick County, or Pender County, call Collins Law Firm at 910-793-9000 for a confidential consultation about what we can do for you.

By. Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal

Covid19 – Access Denied

March 20th, 2020

With the ongoing spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, businesses around the globe are having to make decisions to close, whether it be temporarily or permanent.  Here in North Carolina, bars and restaurants are currently closed for dine-in, and are instead offering take out and/or delivery options.  These changes are set for at least March 31, possibly longer, depending on how the virus develops and continues to spread. 

As of today, because of COVID-19, the Wrightsville Beach Mayor and the Chief of Police have decided to close all of the public beach accesses.  Surf City has also made the announcement that they have closed their public beach accesses.   

Carolina Beach officials followed in the same fashion at a meeting this afternoon, and called a State of Emergency and decided to also close their public beach accesses.  These decisions have been made to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our area, especially now that there have been 3 positive test results from our area.  

Wrightsville Beach, Surf City, and Carolina Beach are all popular destinations for tourists and locals – other beaches in our area include Caswell Beach, Holden Beach, Kure Beach, Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Surf City, Sunset Beach, and Topsail Island.  However, officials in North Carolina are strongly urging residents strongly suggest against non-essential travel at this time and many vacation rental agency discuss flexible cancellation and date moving requests due to Covid19.  And, North Carolina’s welcome centers have been closed until at least April 1, 2020.

In the midst of information about the spreading of the virus or new precautions, unfortunately, false claims are spread promising ways to prevent an infection or even kill the virus, like inhaling hot air from a hair dryer, or gargling with warm water and salt or vinegar.  Please always consider the source of information and check with a healthcare professional before turning to self-remedies.  

By Karen M. Thompson, Paralegal