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Archive for May, 2011

Prom Season in Southeastern North Carolina

Friday, May 27th, 2011

It is prom season here in Southeastern North Carolina. Teenagers at high schools in New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties will soon be dancing the night away at their junior and senior proms in celebration of yet another school year coming to a close.  However, prom has become a time that some underage high school students are likely to excessively drink.  This has led to an increase in underage drinking charges, teenagers using fraudulent driver’s licenses, and DUI/DWI’s.  Additionally, underage individuals will attempt to have a family member or friend who is older than 21 purchase alcohol for them.  North Carolina is taking steps to make it more difficult for underage individuals to get their hands on alcohol, and has introduced a vertical driver’s license for anyone under the age of 21.  Moreover, North Carolina driver’s licenses have a hologram on them, which is a security feature that makes it more difficult to copy.  In a lot of cases underage drinkers try to get around that by obtaining fake IDs from out of state.

Before you consider drinking for your prom or buying alcohol for a friend it is important to know the laws of the State of North Carolina.  Convictions of the laws concerning the sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages outlined in N.C.G.S. Chapter 18B named “Regulation of Alcoholic Beverages,” will lead to a punishment of a class one (maximum of 120 days in jail) or class two misdemeanor (maximum of 60 days in jail).  Furthermore, it is possible that a conviction will lead to your driver’s license being revoked for one year.

N.C.G.S Chapter 18B states that it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21  to buy, attempt to buy, or to possess fortified wine, spirituous liquor, or mixed beverages. It is unlawful for a person under 21 to consume any alcoholic beverage.  If you are underage and you purchase alcohol for another person you shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.  If you are over 21 and purchase alcohol for someone that is younger than 21 you can be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Additionally it is unlawful to use a fraudulent or fake drivers license or other identification document to purchase alcoholic beverages.  Further, any person who permits the use of their driver’s license will be held accountable.

However, just because you have been charged with underage drinking or any violation of the NC alcohol laws, or any law, does not necessarily mean you will be convicted.  Collins Law Firm has represented many people charged with violating the laws concerning the sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol.  In most cases, especially for first time offenders, we have been able to prevent convictions.  Presently, in most cases for first time offenders, even if there is no solid defense, we are able to negotiate an agreement with the district attorney’s office to have the charges dismissed after the defendant completes a certain number of hours of volunteer service, or completing a class about alcohol and the laws regarding alcohol, or other requirements, or a combination thereof. When there is a solid defense, we normally are able to have the charges dismissed without our clients having to perform any volunteer service or complete classes.

If you have been charged with underage drinking, a DWI / DUI, or any other crime in or around Wilmington, NC in New Hanover County, Brunswick County (Bolivia, NC), or Pender County (Burgaw, NC) and need a lawyer or attorney to represent you call Collins Law Firm at: 910-793-9000 for a confidential consultation.

International Monetary Fund Head- Dominique Strauss-Kahn – Accused of a Violent Sexual Attack

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Today’s news headlines are dominated by the weekend arrest of the head of the International Monetary  Fund – Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  He is accused of a violent sexual attack on a hotel maid at the luxury Sofitel hotel, near Times Square, and he is charged with a criminal sex act, attempted rape, and unlawful imprisonment.  This is an extremely high profile case because as a member of France’s Socialist party, Strauss-Kahn had been considered the strongest potential opponent to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in next year’s election.

Strauss-Kahn was examined by authorities over the weekend for physical evidence that could incriminate him, or which could be exculpatory, in the alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid.  His criminal defense lawyer, or at least one of his attorneys is William Taylor, who said that Strauss-Kahn voluntary submitted to the “forensic examination” requested by prosecutors.  Another criminal defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said that Strauss-Kahn “intends to vigorously defend these charges and he denies any wrongdoing.”  Strauss-Kahn was in custody over the weekend at a Harlem precinct where police say the maid identified him from a lineup.  He will have his arraignment in a Manhattan court this Monday, May 16, 2011.

The physical evidence will be very important in this high profile case.  Eye witness testimony has been one of the major sources of wrongful convictions historically.  There are laws in many states proscribing procedures by which eyewitness identification must follow to be admissible in court.  For example North Carolina has the Eyewitness Identification Reform Act codified at § 15A-284.52. This Act requires that:  Before a lineup, the eyewitness shall be instructed that:  “a. The perpetrator might or might not be presented in the lineup, b. The lineup administrator does not know the suspect’s identity, c. The eyewitness should not feel compelled to make an identification, d. It is as important to exclude innocent persons as it is to identify the perpetrator, and e. The investigation will continue whether or not an identification is made. The eyewitness shall acknowledge the receipt of the instructions in writing. If the eyewitness refuses to sign, the lineup administrator shall note the refusal of the eyewitness to sign the acknowledgement and shall also sign the acknowledgement. (4) In a photo lineup, the photograph of the suspect shall be contemporary and, to the extent practicable, shall resemble the suspect’s appearance at the time of the offense. (5) The lineup shall be composed so that the fillers generally resemble the eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator, while ensuring that the suspect does not unduly stand out from the fillers. In addition: a. All fillers selected shall resemble, as much as practicable, the eyewitness’s description of the perpetrator in significant features, including any unique or unusual features. b. At least five fillers shall be included in a photo lineup, in addition to the suspect. c. At least five fillers shall be included in a live lineup, in addition to the suspect. d. If the eyewitness has previously viewed a photo lineup or live lineup in connection with the identification of another person suspected of involvement in the offense, the fillers in the lineup in which the current suspect participates shall be different from the fillers used in any prior lineups. (6) If there are multiple eyewitnesses, the suspect shall be placed in a different position in the lineup or photo array for each eyewitness. (7) In a lineup, no writings or information concerning any previous arrest, indictment, or conviction of the suspect shall be visible or made known to the eyewitness. (8) In a live lineup, any identifying actions, such as speech, gestures, or other movements, shall be performed by all lineup participants. (9) In a live lineup, all lineup participants must be out of view of the eyewitness prior to the lineup. (10) Only one suspect shall be included in a lineup. (11) Nothing shall be said to the eyewitness regarding the suspect’s position in the lineup or regarding anything that might influence the eyewitness’s identification.”

The Strauss-Kahn case will be interesting to follow to see how the physical evidence supports, or contradicts, the eyewitness evidence.

State Proposes Cuts to legal Fees to Court Appointed Lawyers Representing Indigent Defendants in Criminal Courts in North Carolina

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Recently, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that greater than half of the defense lawyers on the court appointed lists in Forsyth County removed their names from the lists when they heard that the $75-per-hour fee may be reduced by $25 under the next state budget.  Danielle Carman, assistant director of the state Office of Indigent Defense Services, said that the move could result in defendants having less-experienced attorneys representing them and could lead to a backlog of criminal cases. She also said that the move would mean that there will be fewer attorneys on the court-appointed lists available to represent clients who can’t afford to hire their own attorneys.  Judges have authority to appoint lawyers who are not on the lists, and attorneys with little to no criminal defense experience may be assigned to represent defendants.  “If I were buying a house, I would want a real estate lawyer,” Carman said.  “If I were a criminal defendant, I would very much prefer a criminal attorney representing me.”
The Journal reported that David Botchin, a Winston-Salem criminal defense lawyer, organized a meeting of criminal defense attorneys.  Thirty-eight attorneys out of 68 on court-appointed lists removed their names from the lists, and more lawyers are planning to remove their names. He said attorneys in Durham, Catawba and Wayne counties are considering a similar move.
The vast majority of the criminal lawyers in Bladen County,  if not all, have removed their names from the court appointed lawyer list, Carman said.  About most of the criminal defense attorneys in Alamance County have removed their names from the lists, she said.
Carman said that if the Office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS) cuts the fees, it will mean that attorneys would receive $50 an hour for handling cases for indigent clients. She said that most lawyers spend about $58 an hour in overhead, including rent, computer access, office assistants and other expenses.
The Journal reported that David Freedman, a Winston-Salem criminal defense attorney, said that private criminal defense attorneys can charge from $200 to $400 an hour depending on their experience.
In Wilmington, NC, located in New Hanover County, we have a Public Defenders Office which handles the majority of the appointed counsel cases.  Private assigned counsel in New Hanover County handle overflow and conflict cases for the Public Defender’s Office.  Private assigned counsel in Pender County, in the court house in Burgaw, handle the bulk of criminal cases in that County.  In Brunswick County, at the courthouse located in Bolivia, NC, there is no public defenders office, and the vast majority of court appointed cases are handled by local private attorneys.
The times news reported that attorneys say they can’t pay assistants, receptionists, pay rent and run their offices on less than $75 an hour. IDS estimates that attorneys pocket less than $17 of the hourly rate. If trials last longer than a day or two, several attorneys said Friday that they operate at a loss.  Rep. Alice Bordsen, D-Alamance, who is on the judicial and appropriations committee says the cuts threaten to undermine the justice system.  She said that she is concerned that indigent defendants will not receive fair representation if experienced lawyers can’t afford to remain on the court appointed counsel lists.