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Coronavirus, Courts, and Continuances in North Carolina - Part 4

Raleigh Criminal Defense Attorney John Fanney joins Law Talk with Bill Powers to discuss criminal charges and the courts during the Coronavirus Outbreak.

Bill Powers: That's true as we sit here today with COVID-19 and six years before and six years after.

John Fanney: Absolutely.

Bill Powers: I encourage clients, I say, "Listen. We want to make sure the state can make its burden of proof. We want to look at the evidence. We want to investigate the background, look at discovery if we need discovery, and see if the state can make its case." That doesn't mean we don't challenge cases, but that does not mean, and people should not assume, that just because you're a good person that the charges are automatically dismissed. I do think there's consideration of prior record. But it is something, as a criminal defense lawyer, I'm regularly telling people, I don't know when people decided that equity, what they consider big picture fair or not fair supersedes even the technical violation of the law. My advice-

John Fanney: Well, people should probably... If you look at the other end of the spectrum, I have a lot of people who have a lot of prior convictions on their record, and they come to me and they go, "Well, that's already in the past, and I've already done my time or paid my price. Why is that being held against me?" Well, that's when you have to explain to people the difference. First of all, having no record does not mean you're not going to be punished in some regard. Having a record is the same thing as having no record. It's a matter of weight. If you have more prior convictions, you can expect the risk of your exposure to punishment to be increased. If you have no record, you still have a risk of exposure to punishment. It's not an automatic thing.

Bill Powers: That's a great thing. Especially with felony sentencing in North Carolina, we have a sentencing guide, a structure, we call it a grid, where there are different prior record levels, and starting at prior record level one and going up to level six, and we use a point system. There are some offenses in North Carolina that doesn't matter whether you have no prior record. Prior record's not considered. That specifically would be drug trafficking charges where you can have a completely clean record and if you have a certain type of drug and a certain amount of that type of drug, whether it's dosage units or weight, you could be charged with trafficking, which is serious stuff, right?

John Fanney: Mandatory sentencing. Trafficking has three levels. Generally for each controlled substance that's involved, there are varying levels of mandatory sentences involved. But even if you have no record, you're charged with trafficking by transportation, possession, distribution, sales. You are looking at mandatory prison. Irrespective of your standing as a good citizen or not, you're looking at mandatory prison time.

Bill Powers: With Charlotte Douglas, we see a lot of those, I call them airport cases, where it's a lot of West Coast people flying either through Charlotte or to Charlotte for distribution. What they do is the airport folks in... we see a lot in San Francisco, LA area, the dogs there will cue on a bag. While it may be legal in some states, if there's a lot of it, they may warn Charlotte. Then Charlotte has their dogs sniff the bags when they come off the airplane, and they wait and see who picks them up. Then we have people who are picked up. They're not from the state. They're sitting in jail. They've got two or three or four different trafficking charges, and they're saying, "Well, it's only one thing." Or I hear, "Well, it's legal in California." I say, "First of all, if it's legal in one state, it's doesn't mean it's legal here."

Bill Powers: I had one recently, someone said that to me, and they literally had 90 pounds of marijuana in two different bags, which I'm surprised they let them load the bags because that seems pretty heavy to me. That amount is not legal in California. Even if it were, you're now in a state where it's not illegal. When you see airplane cases, you probably see this at RDU, too, where you may be attracting interest of another group of individuals, federal court, right?

John Fanney: Right. Yep, known as the U.S. Marshals or the Postal Service or the DEA. We get a lot of cases here in Wake County, not so much through the airport, Bill, but through ground delivery services like FedEx-

Bill Powers: Oh yeah, good point.

John Fanney: ... the Post Office. We get a lot of cases where people have things mailed to them from California, from Washington, from Oregon, or other states of origin, that's the term of art they use, where they know that any kind of package is suspicious. Just like your reference to the airport, they come in to a distribution center. Just these dog sniff, they'll walk around, and if the dog's alert, they'll open the packages. A lot of marijuana vapor, THC vapor, or vape cases we call them, we see a lot of those. A lot of other things where people are shipping wax or dabs. Edibles, we see a lot of folks having edibles shipped to themselves or mailed. Those folks are generally all prosecuted as felonies.

Bill Powers: I'm sure you have, I've seen about every gimmick where it's delivered to a neighbor's house and you go pick it up on the stoop. People think, "Well, I didn't use the U.S. Mail." I'm like, "Well, you did cross state lines." By the way, FedEx and UPS do open packages. They have people working at facilities that go through those things. I guess the important point is I don't see that stopping. We're going to still continue to see those type of charges in Charlotte. It's just the method of prosecution during the coronavirus may be slowed down, but it's not going to be eliminated altogether.

John Fanney: No, no. No. Law enforcement is still out there working. They may have backed off here a little bit in the name of keeping the general public safe, so to speak, and keeping their own folks safe, but we do expect as the economy opens up that there's going to be a lot more charges. There's going to be folks who are going to be itching to get out with the chances of people getting arrested for driving while impaired, a DWI or DUI, that's probably going to start going back up. We're still seeing some activity. Again, underscoring why it's important to have a good criminal defense lawyer.

Bill Powers: Well, that kind of brings us to a close. I think it's a good point to remind people that if you have a pending charge or if you think you may be the subject or a target of an investigation that the only person you really should be speaking to is a criminal defense lawyer. There is something called attorney/client privilege. That means you can call up and-

John Fanney: And the right to remain silent.

Bill Powers: Right, right. You have a right to remain silent. Use it. John, do you charge for consultations for criminal charges?

John Fanney: No, we don't charge for consultations. We're available after hours and on weekends. We have an answering service. If there's an emergency, then we'll return a phone call. We don't charge for those initial phone calls. We try to give good information on the front end and build a trusting, professional relationship with folks and hope that they'll retain us and let us help them with their legal problem.

Bill Powers: Let me give a plug out to John. It's the Fanney Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina. You travel to, I think you mentioned some of your jurisdictions. Let me see if I get this right, like Harnett.

John Fanney: [crosstalk 00:41:16]-

Bill Powers: Where do you go?

John Fanney: Generally eastern North Carolina, some central North Carolina, Moore County, Harnett County, Johnston County, Franklin County, Granville, Person, Orange, Chatham, generally about a 10-county area, Smithfield, Lillington, Louisburg, Roxboro, those types of cities. We'll travel just about anywhere if we feel like we can be effective, but mainly here in Wake County. Of course, Wake County has a lot of towns: Holly Springs, Fuquay, Apex, Cary, Wake Forest, Wendell. We handle cases in all those areas.

Bill Powers: We do the same thing in Charlotte. I call it the Charlotte metro, but we've got six or seven different surrounding counties that we'll go to ourselves. John, what's the best telephone number to reach you at if someone has a question in one of those counties, Wake County, Raleigh metro area?

John Fanney: 919-617-7009. That's 919-617-7009.

Bill Powers: Email? Is there a good email for you?

John Fanney: Yes, it's john@fanneylaw.com. That's john, J-O-H-N, @fanneylaw, F, as in frank, A-N-N-E-Y-L-A-W.com.

Bill Powers: Well, John, thank you so much. I appreciate your time. Maybe we can do another one of these when we have a little bit more information about our courts opening back up. I think Charlotte's going to probably start opening here pretty soon. Cases are being continued past June 1st, but we may start seeing more courtrooms open both in district and superior courts even before then. I would encourage people to follow all state and local and federal stay-at-home orders. If you have questions about what you can or cannot do, you can check John's website. I have website information. You can probably call up and ask some free questions and not worry about getting a bill at least for the criminal matters. John, thank you again for joining us. If you have other legal questions or issues, please feel free to email me at bill@carolinaattorneys.com. We may be able to address that on Law Talk. Thank you again very much, John.

John Fanney: All right. Thank you, Bill.

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