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Collins Law Firm :: Blog

Archive for March, 2014

NC Keep Right

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Driving slowly in the left hand lane is not just a pet peeve, but causes a hazard by negatively impacting the flow of traffic.

This forces faster moving traffic to pass in the right hand lane. Drivers hoping to pass a slow left hand lane driver often signal a lane change toward the center median, flash headlights, or drive very close to the bumper to the slow left hand lane driver, which is known as tailgating.

The left hand lane which is also referred to as the fast lane, inside lane, or passing lane is reserved for faster moving vehicles wishing to pass or overtake. The United States Uniform Vehicle Code states the following: “Upon all roadways any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic.”

Some states, including North Carolina, have made it illegal to drive slowly in the left hand lane and fail to yield to traffic that seeks to overtake.

In North Carolina, travel on a multi-lane roadway is governed by N.C.G.S. §20-146(b):

Upon all highways any vehicle proceeding at less than the legal maximum speed limit shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for thru traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the highway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn.

A violation of this law is an infraction pursuant to N.C.G.S. §20-176 (a) and if convicted, North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicle would assess 2 drivers license points pursuant to N.C.G.S. §20-16 (c), or 3drivers license points if the violation occurred during the operation of a commercial motor vehicle.

Most of the laws prohibiting driving slowly in the left hand lane however seem to only be enforced to stop suspicious vehicles or passengers.

Generally, one should always be aware of their surroundings especially while driving and move lanes if they find themselves holding up traffic – the choice to travel in the right hand lane should be made already out of consideration for other travelers, to increase traffic safety, to reduce traffic congestion, and to improve emergency response.

By Jana H. Collins, Office Manager

Heroin on the Rise

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Heroin is a highly physiologically addictive narcotic derivative of morphine but has a higher potency than morphine. C.R. Alder Wright – an English chemistry and physics researcher in London – was the first to synthesize heroin in 1847. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” The name Heroin stems from Bayer, the German Pharmaceutical Company. Bayer named the first diamorphine product Heroin and made its first fortunes in the late 1890s when it commercialized heroin as cough, cold and pain remedy.

The medical use of heroin is prohibited in the United States, because its unwanted effects, i.e. miscarriages, heart infections, and death exceed its values. Heroin however is used illicitly for its euphoric effects and its use is on the rise nationwide.

In the eastern part of North Carolina, law enforcement officials report that the use of heroin, especially amongst high school students, has increased immensely as it has not been seen in decades. For example, while the Police Department of Wilmington, NC, had 12 people arrested for carrying heroin in 2003, the number was almost twenty times as high in 2013 with 214 arrests.

The surge of heroin use appears to be the unintended side effect of the crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs. While the crackdown on the prescription drug abuse resulted in a decrease of the illegal use of prescription drugs, it also caused some medications to become less available and thereby less affordable. Instead, many turned to a less pricy solution to get euphorically high – heroin.

Even though the use of heroin is at a historic high, experts predict that it has not yet reached the top as addicts are still to some degree able to obtain prescription drugs.

As heroin use may become more prominent in the nearer future, more people may get into a situation in which they may witness a drug related overdose that requires medical assistance. In such situations, limited immunity is extended to those, who seek medical assistance pursuant to N.C.G.S. §90-96.2.

As a heroin user, one does not only face medical and economic, but also legal consequences. Heroin is a Schedule II Controlled Substance pursuant to N.C.G.S. §90-90 (1) and its possession is punishable as a Class I felony pursuant to N.C.G.S. §90-95(a)(3). The sale of heroin is punishable as a Class G felony and the delivery or manufacture is punishable as a Class H felony pursuant to N.C.G.S. §90-95(a)(1).

If convicted of any of those charges, possible consequences are:

– Fines

– Jail or prison time

– Drug treatment/counseling

– Probation

– Difficult bread-winning

– Social stigma

– Permanent criminal record

If you or somebody you know are investigated or have been arrested or charged with a drug crime, you should seek legal counsel to examine all evidence and advise you as to whether accepting a plea deal or going to trial would be in your best interest.

If accepting a plea deal, participation in the Drug Treatment Court (hereinafter DTC) may be considered which is an intensive, highly structured program designed to identify and treat offenders whose criminal activities are generally related to substance abuse offered in 23 counties in North Carolina. Amongst those 23 counties are New Hanover and Brunswick County. In order to qualify for the participation in the DTC, the offender must:

  • be addicted to a chemical substance,
  • be willing to volunteer for the drug treatment court program, and
  • be eligible under the state’s structured sentencing system for a community or intermediate punishment as an alternative to active prison time.

The mission of the DTC is to break the cycle of drug addiction by offering the tools to stay clean. Amongst others, those tools include counseling, housing, school, and employment assistance.

At Collins Law Firm we handle drug charges in New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender County, and we have successfully defended clients against all types of drug crimes. The experienced team at Collins Law Firm is here for you – just a phone call away at 910-793-9000910-793-9000 .

By Jana H. Collins, Office Manager

DWS – Driving While Stoned

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The New York Times recently published a story entitled “Driving Under the Influence, of Marijuana.” The story suggested that driving under the influence of marijuana (pot) is much less risky than driving while impaired by alcohol.  The report also indicated that it is difficult to detect impairment by pot with the standardized field sobriety tests used in DWI by alcohol cases, and it is difficult to confirm impairment with laboratory tests.  The article discusses several studies making these findings and noted the conclusion of some experts that public resources would be better spent combating alcohol-impaired driving, including perhaps lowering the per se threshold for alcohol concentrations to 0.05,  than in establishing a per se limit for blood-THC content or devising roadside tests to detect for marijuana impairment.

Marijuana impairment is harder to detect because THC – the ingredient that gives marijuana its psychoactive effect –  can take as long as four hours for the THC metabolites to appear in the body after smoking pot, and chemical test can still yield a positive result for pot metabolites for weeks after a person last smoked pot.  A publication by the National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) regarding marijuana states that it positive tests can occur long after the window of intoxication and impairment has passed because concentrations of THC in a person’s blood depend in part upon the pattern of marijuana use, it is difficult to establish a relationship between a specified blood concentration and performance impairing effects.  The article in the Times stated that people who smoked marijuana on a frequent basis may have a blood-THC content that exceeds the limits set in Washington and Colorado for THC concentration more than 24 hours after they last smoked pot.

Marilyn A. Huestis, a senior investigator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse said that “our goal is to put out the science and have it used for evidence-based drug policy . . . but I think it’s a mishmash.”  The article cited a 2007 study which found that 12 percent of the drivers randomly stopped on American highways on Friday and Saturday nights had been drinking. (In return for taking part in the study, intoxicated drivers were told they would not be arrested, just taken home.)  It also reported that six percent of the drivers tested positive for marijuana — a number that is likely to go up with increased availability, and added that some experts and officials are concerned that the campaign against drunken driving has not gotten through to marijuana smokers.

The Times article stated that Glenn Davis, highway safety manager at the Department of Transportation in Colorado said that they have done surveys which indicated that a lot of people think D.W.I. laws don’t apply to marijuana.  He added that “there is always somebody who says, ‘I drive better while high.’”  Other evidence suggests that is not the case, but  also suggests that we may not have as much to fear from stoned driving as from drunken driving. Some researchers say that stoned driving, is simply less dangerous than drunk driving because marijuana and alcohol have different physiology. Drivers impaired by alcohol tend to overestimate their skills and drive faster.  Drivers impaired by marijuana do the opposite.  A professor interviewed by the author of the Times article noted the old joke about “‘Creech and Chong being arrested for doing 20 on the freeway.’” The article also said that studies estimate that drivers who are stoned are twice as likely to crash compared with a driver who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent is almost 20 times more likely to be in a fatal accident than a sober driver.

Driving while appreciably impaired by any impairing substance is illegal in North Carolina.  But for the reasons mentioned in the Times article, driving while impaired by pot could be a difficult case for the a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.  The times article discussed the debate about how best to prove that drivers under the influence of THC are too intoxicated to drive. Blood-alcohol content (BAC) can be tested on the side of the road with a hand held alcosensor, and a multitude of studies link increased levels of blood alcohol to decreased driving skills. But not so for pot.  THC levels can only be measured by blood or urine samples.  Urine tests look for metabolites of THC rather than the pot itself, and can return positive results many days or weeks after someone smoked pot.  Some states have laws that prohibit any detectable level of THC metabolite in urine or blood, and criminalize both.  The article said that only six states have set legal limits for THC concentration in the blood, and that in Colorado and Washington state the limit is five nanograms per milliliter of blood, or five parts per billion.

Underage Drinking Prohibited, Except…

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

With two colleges located in Wilmington, North Carolina (University of North Carolina- Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College) it is safe to consider Wilmington, NC a college town; which makes it the perfect town for nightclubs and beach bars. The allure to drink alcohol can be quite strong in a college atmosphere, yet many of the students located here are under the legal drinking age of 21.

In North Carolina, laws concerning the sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages are contained in N.C.G.S. Chapter 18B, Article 3 (§ 18B-300 to §§ 18B-310 through 18B-399).

· If you are less than 19 years of age and convicted of drinking, which is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, your punishment can include a fine in the discretion of the judge, community service hours and a $250 fee or jail, plus court costs of currently $180.

· If you are 19 or 20 years of age and convicted of drinking, which is a Class 3 Misdemeanor, you punishment can include a fine of up to $200 and community service hours and a $250 fee or jail, plus court costs of currently $180

· If you are under the age of and convicted of purchasing or attempting to purchase alcoholic beverages, a Class 1 misdemeanor, your punishment can include Community service hours and a $250 fee or jail time, court cost of currently $180, and a fine is discretion of the judge. In addition, your driver license will be suspended for one year and you will not be able to obtain a limited driving privilege.

While our underage drinking laws are stricter than those in some other states, North Carolina recognizes three exceptions to the general rule prohibiting minors from possessing or consuming alcohol.

  • Religious participation. A minor may possess and consume wine for sacramental purposes in an organized church. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-103(8).)
  • Employment. Minors may possess, transport, or dispense—but not consume—alcohol during the course of employment in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol. Such employment must also be lawful under North Carolina’s youth employment statutes. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-302(h).)
  • Education. Minors may possess and consume alcohol under the direct supervision of an instructor, during the course of a licensed and accredited culinary program, when such consumption is a required part of the curriculum. (North Carolina Gen. Stat. Ann. Section 18B-103(11).)

Collins Law Firm has represented thousands of people charged with crimes or infractions, and many involving crimes involving violating the laws regarding the sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol or underage consumption or possession of alcohol.  In many cases, especially for first time offenders, we have been able to avoid convictions.  Currently, in most cases for first time offenders, even if there is no solid defense, we are able to negotiate an agreement with law enforcement officer and the district attorney’s office to have the charges dismissed pursuant to a deferred prosecution after the defendant completes a certain number of hours of volunteer service, or completing a class about alcohol and the laws regarding alcohol, or completing other conditions for dismissal, or a combination thereof.  In some cases where there is a solid defense, we are able to have the charges dismissed without our clients having to perform any community service or complete classes.

If you or someone you know have been charged with any crime in Southeastern North Carolina, in or around Wilmington NC in New Hanover County, Brunswick County, or Pender County, and need a lawyer or attorney to represent you, call us for a confidential consultation at  910-793-9000.

By Rachel Reynolds, Legal Assistant, Collins Law Firm