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Travel Laws and Reminders

Synonymous with summer time is traveling, whether it’s for vacation or to visit family the warmer weather always leads to more people on the road. This makes it the perfect time to review travel laws and other reminders for instate, interstate or international travel.

Instate

For our North Carolina natives it’s sometimes easy to forget the rules of the road we use almost everyday. Before you click your seatbelt be sure to set your phone to silent or connect to blue tooth, because texting and driving isn’t just against the law it’s also dangerous to yourself and others on the road. When driving on the highway be aware of police and emergency vehicles stopped on the shoulder with their lights flashing. Give them enough space and switch lanes if possible or slow down as you pass. It is just as courteous to the people stopped as it is following the law.

Interstate

Another tip before you hit the road is to check other states rules and regulations regarding driving. Cell phone laws and others vary from state to state, it is always in good practice to check your destination and drive through states Department of Transportation website before leaving.

Everywhere drinking and driving is illegal. Buzzed driving is drunk driving, so if you do plan to drink be sure to have a designated driver, or ride- share app such as Uber or Lyft on hand. The extra dollars spent paying for a driver is well worth it so that yourself and others aren’t put at risk.

International

Flying transcontinental is a big deal, and with flying comes even more polices to help protect you on your journey. Remembering to get Passports and Visas in order long before you depart is a key step. It can take several months for the documentation to process for getting a passport or visa, and leaving it to the last minute may delay your travel plans. If you are renting a car upon arrival check to see if an international driving permit is required. In some places holding a valid U.S license doesn’t cover the requirements needed to drive in that country. As always check the State Department website regarding any travel warnings or restrictions to your area, as well as TSA guidelines for baggage before you pack.

The best part about summer is vacation, and all of us here at GreeneWilson want you to have a happy, safe and fun one.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting 

 

(Sources: News & Observer, U.S State Department, NCDOT, BACtrack, North Carolina General Assembly) 

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The Making of a Murder: Opioid Dealers Could Find Themselves in Prison for Life


More than 12,000 North Carolinians have died from opioid-related overdoses over the last 17 years, the majority of which were unintentional, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

At just 16, Sarah Reams had already received her commercial fishing license and enjoyed spending time outdoors working on a boat with her boyfriend, Ryan Gibbs. In June, the pair were found dead in a Hyde County home after a family member stopped by to check on them. After police became involved, it was discovered the couple bought a drug they thought was cocaine, but did not get what they bargained for.

Toxicology reports showed that fentanyl, a synthetic cousin of heroin, was found in the drugs sold to Reams and Gibbs by 25-year-old Tiffaney Webber. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid pain-killer like morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent.

As heroin and other opioids like fentanyl send more and more victims to the morgue, prosecutors are now wading into uncharted legal terrain to fight back. In this case, Hyde County District Attorney Seth Edwards charged Webber with two counts of murder and four counts of possession with the intent to sell. A second suspect, Alfornia Anderson, 32, was also charged with two counts of murder.

Prosecutors across the country are using laws that come with stiff penalties to target drug dealers and members of the drug supply chain, and connect them and the drugs they sell to deadly overdoses. It’s hoped that the process with hold dealers accountable and greatly reduce drug-related deaths.

The Sad State of Affairs

The Virginian-Pilot reports that 479 deaths related to fentanyl or a close copy of the drug occurred in our state in 2016—nearly twice as many as the 241 the year before, according to a report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The statistics include deaths related to prescription and illegally manufactured drugs.

The percent of opioid deaths involving heroin, fentanyl, and related analogs caused more than half of the opioid deaths in 2016—58.4%. In 2010, these drugs only accounted for approximately 15% of deaths. By 2021, it’s expected that heroin or fentanyl will comprise close to 90% of opioid deaths if action is not taken.

No one is immune to the crisis. Increasing death rates are seen in men and women of all ethnicities and across all age groups, starting at age 15. Geography is not protective either. When looking at overdose fatalities from 2010 to 2015, increases were found in 30 states and Washington D.C.

In a recent statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[The] report shows significant increases across states in death rates from heroin and synthetic opioid deaths, coupled with continuing high numbers of fatal overdoses related to natural/semi-synthetic opioid deaths.” This illustrates “the continued problem with misuse of prescription opioids and the substantial impact of illicit opioids on this epidemic.” The CDC also reiterates the need for law enforcement and health officials to work together to control the epidemic.

Does a Drug Deal Equal Murder?

Douglas Husak, a legal-philosophy professor at Rutgers University, says slapping dealers with murder charges is not only excessive, but misleading. “You want the labels of what criminals have done to give people some kind of idea of what crime they’ve committed,” he said. “You don’t want to call somebody a rapist if what he did was grope somebody. I’m not condoning groping, but you’ve misrepresented what he’s done. To call people who sell heroin ‘murderers’ seems to distort what they’ve done. Call it like it is—they are drug dealers.”

But prosecutors and police leaders say heroin’s surging death toll has necessitated a tougher and more sophisticated approach to policing. Drug-induced homicide laws are not new—more than 20 states have them, but most were put on the books decades ago at the height of the war on drugs. Prosecutors around the country are now dusting these laws off to combat the raging opioid epidemic.

Tom Synan, police chief in Newtown, Ohio, agrees with this strategy, saying many dealers are well aware of the dangers of heroin and the more-potent fentanyl. “In many cases, not only do they have prior knowledge, they are the ones helping to mix it,” he said. “To me that is more than just a street drug. You are intentionally fueling the addiction and giving [users] a product that is extremely dangerous and could cause their death, and you know it.”

The increasing trend of prosecuting drug dealers with homicide is gaining steam across the nation in the wake of the opioid epidemic. Under normal circumstances, if an individual in North Carolina is suspected of selling another person drugs, he or she would face drug charges and, if found guilty, would be sentenced to approximately five years in prison. However, if the dealer is convicted of murder in the second degree, it could mean life in prison.

Todd Williams, Buncombe County’s district attorney, explains how distributors of opioids could face second degree murder charges: “[It] basically goes to the malice component…second degree murder is the unlawful killing of another person with malice and the legislation has defined an opioid substance sold on the street as constituting that malice.”

What’s Considered Fair?

Many legal experts argue these drug death prosecutions are not only unfair, but probably unconstitutional. As Husak put it: “Heroin distributors are not murderers, and they’re not murderers when their customers die from an overdose.”

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service agreed in its report on the practice, Unconstitutional Fiction. “Regardless of the felony committed by a drug supplier, the act of supplying the drug does not legally cause a user’s overdose and death. Courts that use the rule [felony murder in drug prosecutions] violate the accused’s constitutional guarantee of due process of law by failing to prove the causation of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”

It’s not only causation that is problematic, but also intent. Felony murder charges (as distinct from manslaughter) require that intent be proved, legal experts say. Critics charge that politicians and prosecutors are trying to side-step intent with the new drug dealer liability laws.

Advocates and defense attorneys argue that prosecuting people for murder or manslaughter is unfair because the user is ultimately responsible for ingesting the substances. They also argue that “strict liability” is essentially a tool of civil, not criminal law. They say that except for vehicular manslaughter, it’s rare to prosecute someone for accidentally causing death.

“We don’t prosecute people in this country for accidentally killing someone, no matter how horrific,” comments Houston-based defense lawyer Craig Washington. “Strict liability is for civil court, not criminal.”

But prosecutors argue that selling illegal drugs to someone who then overdoses is like driving while intoxicated and then killing someone.

Washington disagrees. He says the state must prove not only that the drugs sold by the dealer caused the death, but that the dealer must also be proven to have intended for the victim to die.

“First, the state must prove that the person died of an overdose and then be able to trace the drugs back to the client,” he said, describing a hypothetical defendant. “And what if my client sold his drugs to someone else, and that person either stepped on the drugs to make them stretch or laced the drugs with something to increase their potency, and that person sells the drugs to someone else who dies? How can my client be guilty of that person’s death?”

It can be said drug use and abuse is as American as apple pie, but there are different ways in which to respond. Will this return to the harsh drug policies of the 1980s work today? Punishing drug dealers then didn’t seem to stop the problem—will it do so now? It all comes down to an individual and the cravings and addictions they fight. The epidemic won’t end until the desire for such destructive drugs is a thing of the past.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; The Washington Post; National Institute on Drug Abuse; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The County Compass; National Public Radio; AlterNet; The Virginian-Pilot; Citizen-Times; Ocracoke Observer; WGHP.com; WRAL.com; and WNCT.com.)

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Summer Driving: That’s the Ticket

Speeding is the most common type of moving violation—66 percent of all tickets issued in the U.S. are for exceeding posted speed limits.

Summertime is synonymous with travel. The season often brings vacations, road trips, and other fun adventures. During these months, traffic increases significantly on North Carolina’s highways and roadways and it’s important for drivers to be more vigilant than ever when operating their vehicles.

A telephone survey performed by AAA found that 80 percent of families polled are planning a road trip this summer, which is up 10 percent from last year. More people on the road means more chances for accidents, mechanical troubles, and—most of all—speeding tickets. According to a survey conducted in 2015 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, speeding is by far the most common type of moving violation—66 percent of all tickets issued were for exceeding highway speed limits. Interestingly, more women (69 percent) get speeding tickets than men (64 percent) and those ages 50 to 64 (70 percent) get more speeding tickets than any other age bracket. So much for pinning reckless driving solely on teenagers!

A speeding ticket may seem like a minor issue, but it can be costly (in more ways than one) to fight or pay for a ticket. In cases where you’re facing increased insurance premiums you’ll likely need the assistance of an experienced attorney—he or she can offer the best legal advice when it comes to dismissing your ticket. And, if the citation cannot be dismissed, a lawyer can help you reach a plea bargain agreement for lesser charges.
The Rule of Law

In our state it’s a violation to drive at a speed that “exceeds what a reasonably prudent person would drive at given the current situation.” In addition, North Carolina has an “absolute” speed limit law, which means that you could be guilty of speeding by going even one mile over the posted speed limit. You could face a fine of between $100 and $1,000, jail time for a maximum of 60 days and have your driver’s license suspended for up to one year. Speeding can also add three points on your driving record!

The fines and costs associated with traffic tickets vary depending on what you’re cited for. But moving violations all have a set price that must be paid if you admit guilt or are found guilty of committing the offense. You might also face more than just state traffic ticket fines. Additional costs include court costs if you decide to challenge your ticket in court. These fees can definitely add up.

The Fewer the Points, the Better

The penalties for traffic tickets are uniform throughout the state. One example of this is the points that are added to a driver’s record for a moving violation. A set amount of points is assigned to each illegal maneuver and a driver will incur these points if he or she is convicted of a violation.

If you’re unfamiliar with the North Carolina point system, the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) keeps track of drivers through their driving record, which lists any traffic citations a driver has received as well as accidents in which a driver has been involved. Traffic violation convictions add points to your driving record and if you accumulate too many of these points during a certain amount of time, you could face additional consequences. For example, accruing 12 points within three years could lead to a suspended license. Hiring an experienced attorney to help you understand and fight the charges levied against you can prevent such consequences.

So Why Hire an Attorney?

Most attorneys will tell you it’s not in your best interest to simply pay a traffic ticket given the potential harsh consequences, both in terms of the penalty you face for this offense and the long-term consequences on your driving privileges, your criminal record, and your insurance rates. You should at least first consult with an experienced traffic law attorney before taking any action.

Jon Welborn, a North Carolina trial attorney, suggests employing professional help for traffic court especially if you:

  • Are unable to appear in court;
  • Have points on your license that will increase your insurance;
  • May lose your license because of a moving violation conviction;
  • Are not sure if you should plead or not;
  • Have been charged with DUI/DWI impaired driving, reckless driving or speeding in excess of 90 miles per hour, hit and run, or other habitual traffic offenses;
  • Have outstanding warrants for your arrest; or
  • Do not want to mail to the court payments for the cost of court.

If you decide to accept a plea an attorney can definitely ensure you get the best reduction possible to minimize the chances that your insurance premium will be increased.

The bottom line? At least speak to an attorney to be aware of the many options you have and the possible outcomes of the decisions you make concerning a speeding ticket.

Best Bets for Avoiding a Ticket

Karla Browsher of Money Talks News suggests the following tips to help you avoid a speeding ticket in the first place:

Be aware of your surroundings: Driver advocate Richard Diamond tells Popular Mechanics magazine that drivers must have situational awareness. For example, “if traffic slows, there’s a reason,” he says.

Avoid the fast lane: Not only does driving in the left-most lane risk giving an officer the impression you meant to go fast, it also makes it easier for officers hiding along the median to catch you. That’s because it’s the lane closest to them.

Watch out for hiding spots: Be aware of locations where officers can hide their cars or motorcycles from drivers, but remain close enough to the roadway to use a radar gun and quickly hop back on the road to catch a speeder. On highways, such locations include median cutouts, overpasses, and bends in the roadway wide enough to hide what lies ahead.

Mike Brucks, a former traffic cop in El Paso, Texas, tells Popular Mechanics that when he was on duty on his motorcycle, his favorite hiding spot was the freeway: “That’s where there are more speeders. I’d park under overpasses, on bridges. I needed to be able to start the bike and accelerate to go after someone.”

Wave at hidden police: An unidentified former police officer tells Reader’s Digest if you notice a hidden police vehicle while already driving a little too fast, you should wave at the officer as you drop your speed. He will either think you know each other and wave back, or will think you’re acknowledging you were driving too fast and are letting him know you’re slowing down. Either way, you drastically reduce your chance of getting a ticket.

Look innocent: As crazy as it sounds, some officers decide whether to give a ticket or a warning before they approach a driver. It helps to maintain your car exterior in a way that conveys you’re a responsible, law-abiding citizen rather than a frequent speeder who hates police and is hiding something. This includes keeping your car clean and uncluttered—do not add bumper stickers that might offend cops. Spoilers, tinted windows, and neon undercarriage lights also are unlikely to make a favorable impression.

Keep your car in working order: Jon Zimmerman, a traffic attorney in Washington, admits officers are more likely to let a single offense slide by, meaning they’re more likely to pull over a car that is speeding and has a broken headlight or taillight, for example.

Be considerate: If you’re pulled over, be nice. “Fighting with the police officer never increases your chances of leniency. You want him to like you,” says Lifehacker writer Stewart Rutledge, who says he’s kept about 30 speeding tickets off his record. Also keep in mind that pulling people over can be a dangerous task—don’t do anything that might make an officer feel uneasy.

Esurance advises that you turn off your car and turn on your hazards. If it’s dark, flick on a light inside your car. Be sure to roll down your window all the way. Remove your hat and sunglasses while remaining inside the car with your hands visible. Rutledge recommends placing them at “10” and “2” on the steering wheel. Don’t reach for your license, registration, or insurance until asked, as an officer might perceive sudden hand movements as threats.

While following these suggestions doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid that ticket, it sure won’t hurt to give them a try! Do your best to be safe on the roads this summer—including watching your speed.

Members of the experienced team at GreeneWilson can explain your possible outcomes, investigate your ticket or other offense, and help you avoid the negative consequences you may face. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; AAA; Money Talks News; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Princeton Survey Research Associates International; CNN; Jon Welborn; Popular Mechanics, Reader’s Digest; and eDriving.com.)

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