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Speeding Cases and Other Minor Violations
It happens to almost everyone -- you're driving along, thinking about work, your family or just listening to music, and you notice the blue lights behind you. Your heart skips a beat, but once you regain your composure you slow down and pull over. What do you do next?

A. The Stop. Once you pull over you should remain in your car with your hands on the steering wheel. Do NOT get out of your car as that is threatening to the officer. Simply wait for the officer to approach you.

The officer will approach your car on the driver's side. If you have a permit and a lawful weapon in your car, this is the time to tell the officer that and to tell him/her where it is located. Most likely you will be asked to produce your driver's license and registration. You should always keep these in an easily accessible place and you should politely hand them to the officer. In most cases the officer will take them back to his car to verify that they're valid and then they will be returned to you.

When the officer returns with your license and registration you will likely be asked "Do you know why I pulled you?" or "Do you know how fast you were going?". Your answer to this should be "NO". This is the correct answer for two reasons: (1) it's the truth since only the officer knows why you were pulled; and (2) it keeps you from making an admission which could later be used against you in court. You should politely listen to the officer but make little or no comment.


If you're pulled over you should expect to receive a ticket. In most circumstances a warning ticket or a verbal warning will not be given. Remember, the State of North Carolina is broke and court costs are an excellent source of revenue! No matter what they may tell you, officers are under pressure to write tickets. Also, crying, begging, arguing, etc. does virtually nothing for you except to give the officer something to laugh about with his or her buddies later. Arguing with the officer or being rude will also hurt you later because the officers now make notes on the citations on the side of the road. When I go to court for a client on a traffic violation the first thing I do is look at the original ticket in the court file to see what the comments are. If I see "Polite and cooperative" then I know I'm going to have a good day. If I see "Called me a jerk" or "Asked me if I was making my quota" then my heart sinks because the client has done me in before I even get started. Remember that before a prosecutor will reduce a ticket the officer will be asked if he or she agrees with the reduction. If the officer says no then it won't happen.

B. What do I do next? In most cases involving minor traffic violations the officer will explain that you can simply pay the ticket by mail. DO NOT DO THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! Call an experienced traffic or criminal lawyer instead. The call is free and it could save you a lot of money later on as you'll see below.

When you call an experienced traffic or criminal lawyer you should expect to first speak with a secretary or paralegal. You will be asked some background questions and to fax or email your ticket to the lawyer's office. 


You probably will not be able to speak with the lawyer at that time because the lawyer spends so much time in court, especially in the mornings. However, you should expect a return call within 24 hours from the lawyer! It is ILLEGAL for anyone but a lawyer to give legal advice and thus only the lawyer can explain the consequences of your charge and your chances of success. If you get a secretary or paralegal who wants to give you legal advice please run the other way as quickly as possible.

When the lawyer calls you back you should explain what happened and tell the lawyer if you have any other tickets on your record over the past three years. The lawyer will then explain what needs to be done in order to assist you. Most likely the lawyer will tell you that your matter can be handled by what is called a Waiver. A Waiver is simply a written document which allows the lawyer to appear in court without you having to come. The lawyer will also tell you how much his or her service will cost and that the payment must be made before the court date. This is standard procedure in traffic and criminal work.

It is illegal and improper for a lawyer to guarantee you a specific result. If the lawyer does give you a guarantee please switch lawyers immediately and tell your new lawyer about the "guarantee" you received so that he or she can deal with that under the Rules of Professional Conduct.

A final word about fees. You typically get what you pay for in criminal or traffic work. There's nothing wrong with "calling around" for quotes. However, if two or three lawyers whom you know are experienced and respected quote you similar fees and another lawyer quotes you 1/2 or 1/3 of that, you should probably think twice about using the "discount lawyer".

If you were polite and cooperative and if you choose a good lawyer, then in many cases you will receive a result which keeps your license intact and your insurance rate at its present level. Remember, if your insurance rate increases due to a traffic matter, the increase lasts for three long years, so handling a matter wisely on the front end can save you an appreciable amount of money.

C. Solicitations. If you receive a ticket, you will unfortunately receive a large number of letters in the mail from lawyers asking you to hire them.

Some will have scary language about losing your license or seeing your insurance rates skyrocket. Others will even include a Waiver without you even asking for it! I don't care for solicitations and you won't get one from me. I believe that some lawyers think traffic work is "easy" and that they can supplement their income by sending the letters and picking up a few dollars with speeding tickets. My response is that it takes a long time to build the trust of prosecutors, officers and judges and I know for a fact that not just any lawyer can walk into a courtroom and get a good result on a traffic ticket. I cringe when a lawyer who handles real estate or bankruptcy starts handling traffic matters without the necessary knowledge. I suggest that you do your homework by asking around before you send money to someone who solicits business through the mail.
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Driving While Impaired
(DWI)
E. If you are arrested and taken "downtown" you will probably be handcuffed and placed in the back seat of the patrol car. Don't be offended or "raise cain" about this. It's a standard procedure for everyone who is arrested. Just remember to keep your mouth shut on the way to the station. I can't tell you how many people have been convicted of DWI largely on how they behaved in the police car. Statements like "My wife is going to kill me!" and "I can't believe I've done something this stupid" will sink you in court. Plus, the officer will likely testify that you had "slurred speech" or were "very excited and talkative".

F. When you get to the station the officer will begin preparations to have you blow into the intoximeter machine. This is the "official" machine and the results are admissible in court. Before you are asked to blow the officer will read certain rights to you, including your right to call a witness and thus delay the testing for up to 30 minutes. Should you do this? YES. You don't have to tell the officer who you're calling and even if you call the North Pole the officer must wait 30 minutes to see if your witness appears.

G. Should you blow? That's the million dollar question and you'll get advice from everyone and their brother about the answer. Here's the real answer. If you don't have a DWI conviction in the past seven years, if there were no children in the car, or if you weren't involved in an accident where someone was injured, and if you need a driver's license, then yes, you should blow. The problem with not blowing is that even if you would have gone under the legal limit, it's irrelevant as far as your driver's license is concerned because DMV is going to revoke your driving privilege for 12 months just for not blowing. Even if you later win your DWI case, your license is going to be taken.

If you do have a DWI conviction in the past seven years, or if you had a child or children in the car, or if you were involved in an accident where someone was injured, then if you're convicted of DWI your sentence MUST include jail time. Before you blow into the intoximeter under those circumstances you should at least try to reach a lawyer for advice. If you can't reach a lawyer, then you'll have to decide for yourself whether providing a breath sample is a good idea.

H. Note for Federal cases. If you are charged with driving under the influence on federal property, such as the sand beaches on the Outer Banks, then failure to blow is a separate criminal offense punishable by up to six months in prison. This only applies to federal matters.

Don't drink and drive. I've been telling people that for 20 years and I handle more DWIs as each year passes. As long as alcohol is available we'll have DWIs with us.

However, if you've been drinking and you're pulled over please remember the following:

A. If the officer smells alcohol then EVERYTHING he does from that point forward is geared toward convicting you of DWI. That is a strong statement but it is absolutely true. The officer will try to play it cool and go through the license and registration process just like in a speeding case, but following that you'll probably be asked to go back to the patrol car. You likely won't be told why except to get a little more information or something like that. The real reason you're being asked back to the patrol car is to allow the officer to put you in an environment under his or her control and to get a good look at you. The officer will also want to determine how strong the odor of alcohol is and you will probably be asked if you've been drinking.

B. This is VERY IMPORTANT. Please pay attention to this paragraph. Although you are under a duty to follow the officer's instructions concerning where to go (i.e., to the patrol car, to the police station, to the magistrate's office), you are NOT under any obligation to answer any questions beyond your name and address (and that is contained on your license if you have one). Remember, once the officer believes you've been drinking every question is aimed at getting you convicted of DWI. Even simple questions like "Where are you heading?" are not really what they seem because the officer doesn't really care where you're heading; rather, he or she wants to see how you pronounce your words or whether you say anything dumb.


C. Should you blow in the portable alco sensor unit that the officer carries in his or her car? NO. The only purpose these units have is to give the officer reason to arrest you and there is NO PENALTY for failing to blow into the portable unit.

D. Should you participate in any "field sobriety tests" such as finger to nose, walking a straight line, etc. NO. The only purpose of these tests is to help the officer develop evidence so that you can be convicted in court. They're almost impossible to perform when sober, especially for folks who are a little older or who have back, leg or foot problems (ask an average grandparent to stand on one leg for 30 seconds with the other leg held out in front of him or her). Because these tests are not your friend and because there is no penalty for not participating in them, you should politely decline them.



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Accidents
At some point in your life you'll probably be involved in an automobile accident. What should you do if you're involved in an accident? Surprisingly, most folks don't know.

A. Make sure everyone's OK. Render aid where needed or tell folks you need help.

B. Call 911, no matter how minor you think the accident is. If law enforcement doesn't investigate the accident then it's your word against the other driver's as to who was at fault.

C. Do not speak with the other driver about how the accident happened. Wait for the officer to arrive.

D. Take pictures! Almost every phone has a camera. The person who is walking around and laughing at the accident scene may well go home, get "advice" from friends and family, and end up in a neck brace or a wheelchair the next day!

E. When the officer arrives explain what happened but do NOT sign anything.

F. Call your insurance company to report the accident. This is typically required under your policy.


G. If you receive a ticket, call an experienced traffic or criminal attorney. Most "accident" tickets can be handled without you having to appear in court but you have to be careful about how those tickets are handled because they can constitute an admission of fault. If you're in an accident and receive a ticket and just pay it off, then you've admitted the accident was your fault and the only question remaining is how much you're going to have to pay the other person.

H. Solicitations. Similar to traffic tickets, if you're involved in an accident and an accident report is taken by an officer then you're going to be inundated with solicitations from "TV lawyers" and similar types wanting to take on your case. Many of these lawyers are from other states or far away in North Carolina. Before you sign on with them ask yourself how they pay for all that slick advertising. Is it because they give individual attention to each case or is it because they traffic in volumes of cases which are settled quickly and often for less than they're worth? I can tell you definitively that there are fine lawyers in northeastern North Carolina who don't advertise on TV but who do know what juries and judges in this area will likely do with a given case and I can assure you they're a good bet if you're injured. In fact, many of the finest and most successful lawyers would never consider soliciting business or advertising in any way because of the light in which it portrays our profession
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Criminal Law
There are so many different crimes and possible scenarios that it's impossible to address them all here. The following is solid advice whenever you're accused or think you may at some point be accused of a crime.

A. Do NOT say anything to ANYONE until you've spoken to a good criminal lawyer. I cannot stress this enough! I promise you the biggest mistake you can make is to talk before getting advice. Your conversation with your lawyer is sacred and confidential. Your conversation with anyone else (even your spouse, because he/she could become your ex-spouse) is not! The jails are full of people who talk. The police might tell you things will go better for you if you talk. Do NOT fall for that. Say "I want to speak with my lawyer before I say anything" and leave it at that. If talking will help you later your lawyer will guide you through that process.

B. Call an experienced criminal lawyer. You will probably reach his or her secretary or paralegal first. But you should expect a return call from the lawyer within 24 hours.

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“You are the best! Thank you for giving me my life back and ensuring that justice is served. My family and I are truly grateful."

  Conclusion
 

I am required to state that the advice contained herein is general and is not specific to any one case. Circumstances can and do vary, which can render the advice contained herein inapplicable. You should always speak to an attorney of your choice about your specific problem before taking any action. Call a lawyer you trust! There are good, honest lawyers out there.

– Michael P. Sanders
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