Wilmington NC Lawyers • Attorneys • Criminal • Traffic • Personal Injury
Collins Law Firm provides full-service representation covering a broad range of legal issues. Below you will find in-depth information on many aspects of the law the firm handles and information on the firm's approach to your legal needs.
Anyone can be charged with a crime. Just because you are charged does not mean you are guilty. In fact, it is a fundamental principle in the United States that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If you are charged with a crime, you should exercise your right to remain silent (which you always have—even before you are read your Miranda rights) and immediately obtain counsel.
Criminal charges, in addition to a sentence imposed by the court, can result in criminal records which can affect a person for their entire life. Therefore, it is very important that people who are charged take the matter seriously and take appropriate steps to avoid or mitigate the negative consequences of criminal charges. In some cases, it is possible to have criminal records expunged, which means the records are removed from the public records and destroyed by a process called expungement or expunction.
Even relatively minor charges like traffic tickets can affect one’s driving privileges, employment, and can cause expensive insurance premium increases. Many times these consequences can be avoided, and sometimes without the necessity of our clients appearing in court. North Carolina is one of the few states that has a disposition known as a Prayer for Judgment Continued or PJC. However, a PJC is not always the best result for all traffic matters. One should always consult an attorney experienced in traffic law if you receive a traffic citation.
Collins Law Firm represents people charged with a wide range of traffic matters from simple speeding tickets to serious felony charges. In many cases, we are able to avoid the necessity of our clients appearing in court and we help eliminate or mitigate the negative consequences of citations or charges.
As with all criminal charges, convictions for traffic violations have a cumulative effect and multiple convictions can have serious adverse consequences. When we represent people charged with traffic violations, we will analyze the defendant's record and attempt to get the best possible result available. In many cases, we have been able to have charges dismissed altogether. When that is not possible, we are prepared to go to trial or negotiate plea arrangements which will result in the least negative impact on our client.
Also, in many instances where people have represented themselves as a result lost their license or their insurance premiums increased dramatically, by way of a Motion for Appropriate Relief, we have been able to go back and vacate the prior judgment and help our clients have their suspended licenses reinstated.
For most traffic matters, Collins Law Firm offers a free initial telephone consultation or we usually have appointments available immediately if you would like to come to our office to meet with a member of our staff.
If a defendant is convicted of a crime, the judge may impose a suspended sentence and place the defendant on probation. Probation can be either supervised or unsupervised. Under supervised probation, a defendant will be required to periodically meet with a probation officer. Other requirements are usually imposed as well such as community service, payment of fines and restitution, submit to drug screens, violate no laws, as well as a wide variety of additional requirements. If a defendant violates the terms of probation, they may be required to appear before a judge who may impose the previously suspended active sentence and require the defendant be incarcerated for the previously determined time period. Defendants who are being brought before the court on a probation violation are entitled to have an attorney represent them. Often, an attorney may be able to negotiate with the probation officer, and present information or evidence to the court to help effectuate the defendant's wishes.
Felonies and Misdemeanors
In North Carolina, as in most states, crimes are divided into two categories—misdemeanors and felonies. More serious crimes are categorized as felonies and less serious crimes are categorized as misdemeanors. On October 1, 1994, North Carolina implemented the structured sentencing laws. This legislation set up specific guidelines within which judges must sentence defendants. The sentences are determined pursuant to a grid which takes into account the defendant's prior record level and the classification of the crime. There are two different grids—one for misdemeanors and one for felonies.
In North Carolina, misdemeanors are divided into one of four classes ranging from the least serious Class 3 to the most serious, Class A-1. Class 3 misdemeanors carry a maximum active sentence of twenty days and Class A-1 misdemeanors carry a maximum active sentence of 150 days of incarceration. For misdemeanors, the defendant's prior record level is divided into three categories which are: level 1, no prior convictions; level 2, one to four prior convictions and; level 3, five or more prior convictions.
The sentencing grid for felonies is more extensive. Felonies are categorized in classes ranging from Class I, which is the least serious, carrying a maximum punishment of 15 months in prison, and the most serious crimes are classified as Class A which carries a maximum sentence of death or life without parole. The prior record level for felonies ranges from a record level 1 which is for a defendant with 0 points to at the most serious prior record level which is Level 6, which is the level for defendants with 19 or more "points." The points for determining the record level under felony sentencing is determined by a set of rules where prior convictions for misdemeanors carry one point each and felony convictions carry two points for the least serious felonies and up to ten points for the most serious felonies.
Within the structured sentencing guidelines, there is room for the judge to impose a wide variety of conditions and the range of punishment within the guidelines is for the judge to decide based upon many factors including specific aggravating or mitigating factors. If you have been charged with a crime—either a misdemeanor or a felony—you should immediately consult with an attorney and not discuss your matter with anyone except for your attorney until and if your attorney advises you otherwise. There are many things that can be done which will either help or hurt your particular case and your attorney can help you minimize the negative impact you will ultimately suffer as a result of a criminal charge.
Drug and alcohol offenses may have specific laws which address additional consequences you may suffer in addition to the conviction. In many cases, depending on the charge and your age, drug and alcohol offenses may affect your drivers license. Also, there are special provisions within the law which allow for conditional dismissal of drug and alcohol offenses for first time offenders. Regardless of the type of crime with which you are charged, you should immediately consult with an attorney before discussing the matter with anyone else.
In North Carolina, as in most states, drivers of automobiles are required to have liability insurance. If a person is injured by the driver of an automobile in North Carolina they may be entitled to compensation.
Even if the driver of the car who injured you had no insurance, you still may be able to recover under your own policy so long as you have uninsured coverage. North Carolina is one of the few states which still applies the "contributory negligence" doctrine. Under this doctrine, if it is determined by a judge or jury that the plaintiff was even 1% at fault, they may be barred from recovering anything. The laws and regulations related to insurance are complex and if you are injured in an accident involving an automobile you should contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney immediately to assist you with your matter.
In North Carolina, as in most states, when a person is killed as an approximate result of a person or corporation’s negligence, or other misconduct, the personal representative of the decedent's estate can bring an action for compensation. North Carolina’s wrongful death statute is enumerated in N.C.G.S. section 28A-18. The damages which can be recovered include compensation for the pain and suffering of the decedent, expenses for medical care as a result of the injury, funeral expenses, and the net present value of the decedent to the persons entitled to recover for damages including but not limited to the net income of the decedent, services, protection, care and assistance of the decedent, in society, companionship, comfort, etc. Also, in certain cases, punitive damages can be recovered, such as when a death is caused by malice or willful or wanton conduct on behalf of the defendant.
While it is difficult to imagine trying to place a dollar value on a person’s life, after an individual has been killed, the only remedy under the law is recovery of monetary damages. If a settlement cannot be reached, it is ultimately up to a jury to have the responsibility to place a dollar value on the decedent’s life.
There are specific procedural requirements which must be met before an action for a wrongful death can be brought. They can get complicated and anyone with a potential wrongful death claim should consult with an attorney immediately to discuss the potential of bringing an action.
The beneficiaries of a wrongful death action are the decedent’s survivors. Beneficiaries are determined by the intestate succession act. A decedent’s will is not controlled with respect to the proceedings of a wrongful death action.
NCDOT & Dangerous Roads Injuries & Deaths
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is one of the state’s largest agencies and its responsibilities include building, repairing, and operating all kinds of transportation within the state of North Carolina – i.e. highways, railroads, aviation, ferries, public transit, bike paths, and pedestrian walkways.
The department is led by the secretary of transportation who is a member of the governor’s cabinet.
N.C.G.S. § 143B-346 defines the purpose and functions of the NC DOT as follows:
The general purpose of the Department of Transportation is to provide for the necessary planning, construction, maintenance, and operation of an integrated statewide transportation system for the economical and safe transportation of people and goods as provided for by law. The Department shall also provide and maintain an accurate register of transportation vehicles as provided by statutes, and the Department shall enforce the laws of this State relating to transportation safety assigned to the Department. The Department of Transportation shall be responsible for all of the transportation functions of the executive branch of the State as provided by law except those functions delegated to the Utilities Commission and the Commissioners of Navigation and Pilotage as provided for by Chapter 76. The major transportation functions include aeronautics, highways, mass transportation, motor vehicles, and transportation safety as provided for by State law. The Department of Transportation shall succeed to all functions vested in the Board of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles on July 1, 1977.
While the state and local governments are generally protected from all kinds of lawsuits based on both sovereign and governmental immunity which derived from the English concept that the “king can do no wrong,” the state has waived its immunity against tort claims as provided by N.C.G.S. § 143-291, which reads as follows:
(a) The North Carolina Industrial Commission is hereby constituted a court for the purpose of hearing and passing upon tort claims against the State Board of Education, the Board of Transportation, and all other departments, institutions and agencies of the State. The Industrial Commission shall determine whether or not each individual claim arose as a result of the negligence of any officer, employee, involuntary servant or agent of the State while acting within the scope of his office, employment, service, agency or authority, under circumstances where the State of North Carolina, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the laws of North Carolina. If the Commission finds that there was negligence on the part of an officer, employee, involuntary servant or agent of the State while acting within the scope of his office, employment, service, agency or authority that was the proximate cause of the injury and that there was no contributory negligence on the part of the claimant or the person in whose behalf the claim is asserted, the Commission shall determine the amount of damages that the claimant is entitled to be paid, including medical and other expenses, and by appropriate order direct the payment of damages as provided in subsection (a1) of this section, but in no event shall the amount of damages awarded exceed the amounts authorized in G.S. 143-299.2 cumulatively to all claimants on account of injury and damage to any one person arising out of a single occurrence. Community colleges and technical colleges shall be deemed State agencies for purposes of this Article. The fact that a claim may be brought under more than one Article under this Chapter shall not increase the foregoing maximum liability of the State.
(a1) The unit of State government that employed the employee at the time the cause of action arose shall pay the first one hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) of liability, and the balance of any payment owed shall be paid in accordance with G.S. 143-299.4.
(b) If a State agency, otherwise authorized to purchase insurance, purchases a policy of commercial liability insurance providing coverage in an amount at least equal to the limits of the State Tort Claims Act, such insurance coverage shall be in lieu of the State’s obligation for payment under this Article.
(c) The North Carolina High School Athletic Association, Inc., is a State agency for purposes of this Article, and its liability in tort shall be only under this Article. This subsection does not extend to any independent contractor of the Association. The Association shall be obligated for payments under this Article, through the purchase of commercial insurance or otherwise, in lieu of any responsibility of the State or The University of North Carolina for this payment. The Association shall be similarly obligated to reimburse or have reimbursed the Department of Justice for any expenses in defending any claim against the Association under this Article.
(d) Liability in tort of the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees for noncertifications as defined under G.S. 58-50-61 shall be only under this Article.
The Industrial Commission has exclusive, original jurisdiction over claims covered by the Tort Claims Act. Payments by the state under the Tort Claims Act are limited to one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) as provided by N.C.G.S. § 143-299.2:
(a) The maximum amount that the State may pay cumulatively to all claimants on account of injury and damage to any one person arising out of any one occurrence, whether the NC General Statutes – Chapter 143 Article 31 7 claim or claims are brought under this Article, or Article 31A or Article 31B of this Chapter, shall be one million dollars ($1,000,000), less any commercial liability insurance purchased by the State and applicable to the claim or claims under G.S. 143-291(b), 143-300.6(c), or 143-300.16(c).
(b) The fact that a claim or claims may be brought under more than one Article under this Chapter shall not increase the above maximum liability of the State.
Collins Law Firm along with H. Mitchell Baker, III, have experience in bringing action under the Tort Claims Act based on the NCDOT’s failure to have adequate signage or warnings in place to notify and warn motorists of upcoming intersections, or based on the NC DOT’s breach of its duty to keep the public streets open for travel and free from unnecessary obstructions.
If you or someone you know and care about has been injured, or killed, due to negligence by NCDOT, please call Collins Law Firm at 910-793-9000 for a free confidential consultation.
In NC, as in most states, a person injured on the job is entitled to compensation under the North Carolina’s Workers' Compensation Act. However, many times the workers' eligibility can be questioned and the amount of compensation can be questioned. If a worker is injured on the job, they should immediately notify their employer and seek appropriate medical attention. With some exceptions, no recovery may be made unless written notice is given to the employer within 30 days of the occurrence of the accident or death
While in some cases it may not be necessary to retain the services of an attorney, because of the complexity of the laws and potential pitfalls, it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney practicing in the area of worker’s compensation.
Wills & Estates
A will, often referred to as “last will and testament,” is a written instrument by which a person makes a legal declaration of their wishes regarding the disposal of their property or estate after their death. In North Carolina, wills are governed by Chapter 31 of the General Statues.
In situations in which the deceased did not dispose of their property or estate by a valid will, such property and estate will be disposed pursuant to the intestate succession laws. Which state’s intestacy laws apply is determined by the deceased’s domicile at the time of their passing and by the type of property that belongs to the estate. North Carolina intestate succession laws are laid out in Chapter 29 of the North Carolina General Statutes.
While each individual has a choice weather to have a will or not, the legal benefits of having a will are significant. Therefore, it is important that one is well informed of the intestate succession laws applicable to their estate, and, if these laws do not reflect that person’s wishes regarding the disposal of their property or estate upon their death, one should create their own will.
The most common advance directives are living wills and healthcare powers of attorney.
A living will is a legal document in which the signer gives instructions for the future to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging measures if they become disabled beyond a reasonable expectation of recovery and are unable to communicate their choice to their health care providers.
A healthcare power of attorney is a legal document in which the signer appoints an agent in the event they become unable to make health care decisions on their own.
Both forms of advance directives can be amended or revoked at any time.
A power of attorney is a legal document in which an individual, the principal, appoints another person to be their agent. The agent then takes care of matters for the principal.
The principal can grant either general (or full) or special (or limited) power of attorney.
While with a general power of attorney, the agent is appointed to handle any and all matters on behalf of the principal, a special power of attorney is limited to a specific matter or a specified list of matters.
Generally, a power of attorney is terminated when the principal becomes incapacitated or dies. Otherwise, the principal can revoke or amend their power of attorney at any time.
A Principal who wants to grant power of attorney to an agent beyond his incapacity needs to do so by durable power of attorney.
Guardianship is the care of the person and their property by another, or the legal responsibility for a minor child or a mentally incompetent person. A guardian may be designated by a parent for their minor child or be appointed by a court for an incompetent person. The fundamental justification for a guardianship is to protect the person and the property of the incompetent. In some instances, more than one guardian may be designated each with their own specified responsibility.