What You Need to Know About Misdemeanor Drug Offenses - Part 5
Jan 4, 2018
Being charged with a misdemeanor drug offense can be a scary situation. This podcast episode is here to help.
North Carolina Attorney Bill Powers has been defending misdemeanor drug offenses for 25 years. In this episode, Attorney Powers answers the questions that matter to you when you when you've been charged with a drug offense.
Sometimes we, in a very nice way, say, "That makes no sense." Sometimes people are suffering due to a substance abuse problem. They don't realize it, or sometimes things aren't going well in their life, and they get a citation and it's a snapshot what's going on in their overall life. We really try to help people get through these times. It's not meant to be judgemental, but I spend a lot of time counseling people and saying, "What go you here?" You'd be silly if you have any kind of criminal charge to just say, "Whatever," and not really think about what got you there.
That doesn't mean I'm saying, "Oh, you're a weed smoker. You're a terrible person." That's not my point, but what were the nature of the circumstances that police got involved and was it bad luck or was it something that was a matter of time? It was going to happen and is something worse going to happen?
Robert Ingalls: Right. I want to go back for a second and talk about the deferral options you were speaking about, because I think that sometimes the listener might not know exactly what those options are. They pick up a charge. What are these deferral options and how do they work?
Bill Powers: Sure. Great question. The answer is depends on where you're at, where you're sitting. Meaning where were you charged or where are the charges pending? North Carolina has got a hundred different counties and a bunch of different judicial and prosecutorial districts in those hundred different counties. What is available to you in Charlotte Mecklenburg may not be the same thing that's available to you in a joining county. Let's say Cabarrus Concord. That's a great example, because anyone that's practiced in the two, I'm not discouraging my friends in Concord, but it's a different world out there, a substantially different world.
The larger jurisdictions have more resources. We have more programs available. Heck, in Charlotte, I think we got five different driving schools the last time I checked for speeding tickets, whereas some jurisdictions driving school really isn't maybe even an option, or you have to do something online. There are some deferral programs that may be available in a larger jurisdiction. It may not be available in a smaller jurisdiction. For example, in Charlotte, we've got something called defer prosecution.
We also have a program called deferred light. We have something called CBI, which cognitive behavioral intervention. Then we have other jurisdictions where it's like, "Well, just get an assessment and follow through, and we'll do a dismissal." What works in one jurisdiction or what is available to you in one jurisdiction may not be available at another jurisdiction. There are some deferral type of programs that are limited to drug type of offenses where you have a 90-96 type of thing.
Sometimes you hear the 15A conditional discharge, and I'm not just trying to throw phraseology out here, but it's really complicated. I see people sometimes using a shotgun what a rifle would have done and you only get one shot with a rifle and you should be careful about limiting your options in the future.
Robert Ingalls: Sure, sounds like there's a lot of options and you should be careful making any decisions without talking to a professional first. Very good. One of the things I wanted to hit on before we wrapped up, is something that I'm starting to see more, and more, and more is people who had a charge, they got it dismissed and now they're still having trouble getting a job because that charge is on their record.
Bill Powers: What you're referring to is expunctions or expungement and how do you remove something from a permanent record, and indeed is it a permanent record? This is something that we're seeing more, and more, and more in North Carolina. This is a culture of courts type of system. We have seen some recent changes within the last year, 18 months regarding offenses that were traditionally adult offenses are now going juvenile and part of the justice initiatives program, which I have to compliment the people involved with that. I think it's a great idea to always analyze what we're doing and why we're doing it.
Can we do something better, but expungements, I tell people when I first open the file with them what it is, and then they'll call a year later and say, "I thought it was expunged automatically." I'm like, "No." An expunction ... it's almost like filing a lawsuit against the state. No, it's not filing a lawsuit, but it's more of almost a quasi civil type of preceding where you have to fill our a special form, and the judge assigned to the district orders the state bureau of investigation to do a record check and they send the record check back and it's all certified and looking all nice.
Then, if you're eligible, which the eligibility requirements on these things, I actually have a flow chart. I literally have a chart, and I go through, and it's a series of yes, no questions about whether you are eligible and what are the steps in order to have that happen. It is extraordinarily complex in an area of law that is rapidly developing. They change these things. They tweak these things. I say never assume that it's automatic. I have people who say, "I was convicted of first degree sex offense in 1983. I would like to have my record expunged."
I'm like, "Well, the likelihood of that is pretty slim." Expunctions, generally speaking, understand there are exceptions are, generally speaking, are for more minor offenses for people who have had a relatively clean record during a limited period of time, and there are some times where the age of the offender or the person charged is considered, both good and bad, meaning that you become eligible after a period of time, but not before a period of time. The type of charges matter.