Get Answers to the Most Frequently Asked Questions about Auto Injury Claims, Workers Compensation Claims, and Divorce & Custody Cases.

Questions about an injury claim, workers compensation claim or a divorce or custody issue?  We want you to call us and ask your questions at (910) 341-7570.  There is almost always a lawyer available to speak with you.  The call is free and there is no obligation.  If you prefer, you can gather more information on this site before you call. We answer many of the most frequently asked questions here.  The site is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice.  It is designed to give you the information you need to get started and to be knowledgable about the process as you search for the best injury lawyer, the best workers compensation lawyer, or the best divorce lawyer for you.

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  • What should I do if I receive a federal criminal indictment, criminal complaint or target letter?

    Indictment, Criminal Complaint or Target Letter

    The Federal Criminal Process begins with an Indictment, a Criminal Complaint or a Target Letter.  These documents are not evidence of guilt.  They are merely allegations of criminal conduct.  They are also clear indications that you need a federal criminal defense attorney immediately.

    Indictments, Criminal Complaints and Target letters provide your attorney with critical information that he or she can use to you immediate advantage.  From these documents your lawyer can determine whether there may be opportunities to avoid federal prosecution.  Your lawyer can know the offenses with which you have been or may be charged and the statutory maximums and minimums for those offenses.  He or she may be able to identify the judge who will preside over your case.  Based upon the offense(s) charged, your lawyer can perform a detailed guideline analysis using the United States Sentencing Guidelines to give you a reliable estimate of the length of the sentence of imprisonment that you face if you are convicted.  You will need to refer to this guideline analysis throughout the criminal prosecution as you make critical decisions.

    In addition, your attorney can identify the prosecutor assigned to your case.  That gives him or her someone to talk to about important issues such as Detention, Discovery, Plea Agreements, Trial, and Sentencing. As soon as you know that you might be charged with a crime in federal court it is important that you contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately.

    A WORD OF CAUTION:  Not all criminal defense lawyers are FEDERAL criminal defense lawyers.  There are many brilliant state court criminal defense attorneys who have no business in a federal courtroom.  They simply lack federal criminal knowledge and experience.  Although many underlying principles are the same, federal criminal court is completely different from state court.  You will need an experienced criminal defense attorney who is regularly in federal criminal court in order to get information about judicial tendencies, prosecutorial policies and guideline application. Inaccurate information will lead you to make bad decisions.  You will need reliable information in order to make good decisions.

    For more information about the biggest mistakes people make in federal criminal cases that cost them years away from their families and the most effective ways to avoid these mistakes please call (877) 593-4233 to request a free copy of my book, Busted by the Federal Authorities, A Handbook for Defendants facing Federal Criminal Prosecution or to speak with an experienced professional about your case.

     

  • What should I expect at my initial appearance in federal court?

    The Initial Appearance

    After an arrest, you will be taken in front of a U.S. Magistrate Judge immediately for your Initial Appearance.  At your Initial Appearance the Judge will explain to you the offense(s) with which you have been charged.  He or she will explain some of your rights and ask you if you are able to hire your own lawyer or if you would like to apply for a court-appointed lawyer. The Magistrate Judge will ask the government if they are “moving for Detention” in your case.  If the government moves for detention then they are asking the court to hold you in jail until your case is heard.  This is common in federal court. You have a right to a detention hearing if the government “moves for detention”.  If the government does not move for detention, you will be released until your arraignment.

     A word of caution

     This is not a closed or protected hearing.  There is no opportunity for the defendant to “clear the air” or “explain misunderstandings”.  The proceedings will be recorded.  Anything the defendant says can be used against him or her.  There will be an experienced prosecutor present who will do exactly that given the opportunity.  It may be necessary for you to provide answers to basic informational questions.  Examples include “Do you understand the process that I have explained to you?” or “Have you received a copy of the Indictment?”.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine which questions are dangerous to answer in these preliminary hearings.  You should exercise your right to remain silent as much as possible and retain an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

    For more information about the biggest mistakes people make in federal criminal cases that cost them years away from their families and the most effective ways to avoid these mistakes please call (877) 593-4233 to request a free copy of my book, Busted by the Federal Authorities, A Handbook for Defendants facing Federal Criminal Prosecution or to speak with an experienced professional about your case.

     

  • We purchased property in a development a few years ago. The development has stalled, we cannot sell the property or build on it. Can we bring class action lawsuit against the developer?

    In the early 2000s, new developments were springing up all over North Carolina. Property values were skyrocketing and everyone wanted to participate in the huge gains experienced by real estate investors. In late 2005, the music stopped leaving many real estate investors rushing to find a safe seat.

    Now years later, many of these developments have stalled. Incomplete amenities, roads and utilities have left some developments uninhabitable.  Others are still struggling to complete the different phases of development.

    If you invested in one of these communities, you may or may not have a case against the developer or the lender.  You may hear from developers, “Read the fine print.” You may hear from lenders, “Still, you barrowed the money and promised to repay”.  You may hear, “Sometimes investments produce profit and sometimes they don’t.”  All of these things are true.

    However, where a developer represents that the property is nearly “Sold Out!” and phases are “Sold Out!” in one or two days there may be liability if that is not true.  Where banks participate in sales events by offering special financial incentives to buy in a particular development there may be liability.  Where a developer has sold many lots and made lots of money but then failed to complete community infrastructure or amenities, there may be liability.

    Each case is different.  Whether there is a case will depend of the development, the developer, the lender and the buyer. Call us at (910) 341-7570 to discuss your situation and your options.

  • The police got an anonymous tip saying I was engaged in illegal activity. As a result, I was stopped in the street, had my belongings and person searched, and then arrested. Is this legal?

    Maybe not.

    Every state has its own laws and regulations on how law enforcement officials may use anonymous tips. In North Carolina, the rule has two parts:

    • The anonymous tip must come from a source that is reliable and credible.
    • There must be additional information available to the police to corroborate this tip before they may act on it.

    An arrest based on an anonymous tip is good only if both of these provisions are satisfied. That may be a hard position for the prosecution to maintain in your case.

    Reliable and credible?

    It’s difficult to see how an informant can be both anonymous and credible. If the informant snitches regularly enough to the police to have a track record for reliability, then the police surely know something about who he is. If the informant does not have a history of working with law enforcement, then there are no grounds for the police to decide the tip is credible.

    In many cases, informants snitch on other people in hopes of gaining a reward from law enforcement officers—either a cash payment or preferential treatment in their own criminal cases. But a criminal can hardly ask to trade information for reduced charges or shorter jail time for a North Carolina felony conviction and still remain an anonymous informant. Cash payoffs may serve to induce the informant to set other people up—for instance, by carrying firearms, illegal drugs, or large sums of cash where police may make an arrest.

    Is the information corroborated?

    A 2000 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Florida v. J.L. established limits on the police use of anonymous tips. The tip can’t merely describe a person or his clothing, the Court decided, but must provide information on the illegal conduct the person is doing.

    In North Carolina, the police must have additional corroborating evidence that tends to confirm the tip before they can act. What this might entail is a little vague. “The reliability of an anonymous tip is determined by assessing the totality of the circumstances as to what the officer knew before making the stop,” said the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the 2009 case North Carolina v. Edgar Bedolla Garcia. Even though the rule is unclear, there is plenty of room for a defense lawyer to argue that the police did not have sufficient supporting evidence to make an arrest.

    About poisonous trees...and your legal defense

    What happens if the police rely improperly on an anonymous tip, and that leads to an incriminating search or to an arrest?

    If your North Carolina criminal defense lawyer is doing his job right, that evidence should be suppressed—that is, excluded from your trial. Because the fundamental search is based on faulty respect for your legal rights, anything that the police find is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree”—faulty evidence that cannot be used against you.

    Don’t risk being convicted based on evidence that should have been excluded from your trial. Call 877-593-4233 today to connect with Speaks Law Firm in Wilmington. Our aggressive criminal defense team is ready to find you the best outcome available for your case. Call toll-free to learn how we can help you.

  • My brother, Dave, was arrested in New Hanover County almost a year ago. He couldn’t afford bail for his felony charge, and I—and the rest of the family—was in no position to help him. Now that the trial date is almost here, we hear that the prosecutor is probably going to drop all the charges. What kind of compensation can Dave get for eleven months spent in jail for no good reason?

    Sorry. Dave gets nothing.

    But look on the bright side; he’s coming home for the holidays, and he won’t spend years in prison and have the weight of a felony conviction on his record.

    One of the quirks of our legal system is that detention before trial is not considered to be punishment. Instead, detention is how the North Carolina criminal justice system ensures that a defendant will appear when called for trial.

    Clearly, if every defendant were simply released after being charged with a crime, some—perhaps most—would flee North Carolina. On the other hand, confining every defendant for a long period before his turn comes for his trial seems to be unfair. The solution to this conflict between competing goals is the bail system, which has its origins in Britain during the Middle Ages.

    When a judge sets a bail amount for a criminal defendant in North Carolina, she looks at the seriousness of the offense and ties the accused person to the local community. She also listens to arguments from both the prosecutor and the defense attorney about the appropriate bail value. It’s important to recognize that she does not have to consider whether bail would be affordable for the defendant. In fact, if bail was seen as “cheap”—that is, if the amount was regularly set low enough that prisoners could afford it easily—then it would be less effective in guaranteeing that a defendant will return to court when summoned. For this reason, bail in North Carolina is often set so high that it’s even out of the question for defendants to pay the 10 percent premium to obtain a bail bond.

    As far as the criminal justice system is concerned, bail isn’t a means to give an arrestee his freedom; it’s a means to control the defendant’s movements without the expense of housing him in jail for months.

    For minor offenses where the defendant has close ties to the community, nearby family, and a steady job, cash bail may be waived and the defendant released for free—“on his own recognizance,” is the legal term. By the same token, for some of the most serious crimes or riskiest defendants, the judge may refuse to offer bail at all.

    In between those two extremes, there’s a lot of room for maneuvering and negotiation. Your criminal defense lawyer in New Hanover County should be prepared to persuade a judge to lower his client’s bail to a reasonable amount. That’s a strategic argument the defense attorneys at Speaks Law Firm are well prepared to make. In the future, if you need to contact one of our Wilmington trial attorneys, call us toll-free at 877-593-4233. The Speaks Law Firm represents clients throughout the Wilmington, North Carolina area, including Murraysville, Hampstead, Ogden, Delco, Myrtle Grove, Wrightsville Beach, and Carolina Beach.

  • But I’m not guilty! Why should I have to hire a lawyer when I’m not guilty?

    You need to hire a defense lawyer because nobody else is going to look out for your interests effectively.

    It would be great if the North Carolina criminal justice system produced perfect justice, but, in fact, it cannot. The justice system is an imperfect human agency operating within the normal limits of imperfect knowledge.

    Since imperfect knowledge means we can’t have perfect justice, the system sets a different goal: clearing cases. For example, even if you are not guilty of the criminal charge you face, the local district attorney or prosecutor believes he has sufficient evidence to convince a jury that you are guilty. If he can get a conviction on that charge, your case will be marked as cleared. The local police will also be able to check off a particular crime as having been cleared by an arrest and a conviction. Everyone involved will be congratulated for doing their job well, and they move one step closer toward the next promotion.

    If it sounds like you’re being used as a pawn in a game…

    It’s not quite true that you’re being used as a tally counter in some game. In almost every case, law enforcement officers and prosecutors try to avoid a gross miscarriage of justice. If they sincerely believe you are innocent, they will not charge you with a crime. But they work in a job where criminals lie to them constantly, so it’s no wonder they get a little jaded, a little cynical, and a little resistant when someone proclaims their innocence.

    If the police, sheriff’s deputies, and prosecutors think you’re the guilty party, you can’t expect sympathy—even when they’re wrong to doubt you.

    Can you defend yourself?

    If you’ve never had contact with the criminal justice system before, there’s no easy way to make you understand how complex it is. To be effective in a North Carolina criminal case, you have to be thoroughly familiar with:

    • The state and federal law enforcement and corrections system
    • Courtroom rules and procedure
    • Statute law and the larger body of precedent law

    Most laypersons simply do not have the competence that comes from years spent working as a criminal defense lawyer in North Carolina. Trust us, this isn’t something you can pick up over a weekend.

    You do have the legal right under the U.S. Constitution to defend yourself. But you do not have the background and education to do that effectively. Unless you have made bail arrangements, you may not even have the freedom to learn the fundamentals before your case comes to trial. You don’t have the skills to negotiate a plea agreement or to cross-examine a witness.

    We do.

    You need Speaks Law Firm

    Innocence is great, but it is no magic shield against being convicted of a crime in North Carolina. If you follow the news, you know that innocent people have been convicted often in U.S. courts. You don’t want to join them in prison. What you really need is an effective legal advocate who can use the fact of your innocence to build a solid legal defense strategy.

    Hiring a trial lawyer from Speaks Law Firm is essential when you are facing criminal charges in Wilmington or other nearby towns. We have the experience, education, and practical understanding needed to steer your case toward the best possible outcome. Give us a call today at 877-593-4233 to learn how we can help with your defense.

     

  • My son thinks he knows everything. He just turned 16 and says he wants to run his own life and be emancipated from his father and me. He’s even found a lawyer who will help him. Should we oppose him in court? He really isn’t ready to be on his own.

    Legal emancipation is possible in North Carolina for people aged 16 and 17. A child who has been emancipated by court order is no longer under the authority of his parents. His parents no longer have the obligation to support him, and they cannot be held responsible for his actions.

    While there are a few alternative ways to become emancipated, such as joining the military or getting married, it’s clear from your question that your son is planning to petition the court for emancipation.

    When legal action is taken for emancipation in North Carolina, it’s vitally important whether the parents support the action. The parents may tell the judge that they approve of emancipation, and in that case the court will consider if emancipation is in the best interest of the teenager. If, however, the parents oppose emancipation, the judge will only proceed further if the minor can prove he has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by the parents.

    So you, as parents, have almost complete control of this first checkpoint. Assuming that you have been treating your son appropriately, your opposition to emancipation can stop the petition from moving forward. However, even if you were to decide not to oppose your son’s wishes, he still may not get the release he is seeking.

    The second checkpoint: Is emancipation in the child’s best interest?

    Before the judge will sign an emancipation order, he will also consider whether the teenager is ready to enter the adult world. That means the child will have to submit a plan to show he can be adequately self-reliant in a number of areas. Your son would have to prove to the judge he could obtain and pay for:

    • Housing and utilities
    • Food
    • Clothing
    • Transportation
    • Medical care
    • Household items and furniture
    • Other reasonable expenses for school needs, personal entertainment, and the like

    Emancipation: it’s no bed of roses

    Your son probably does not understand the difficulties he would face as a minor without a family to rely on. As parents of an emancipated child, you would have no obligation to provide for his living needs. If you were divorced from his father, the child support would end, too.

    If this demand for emancipation is a reaction to friction within the family, you might see if family counseling could help resolve underlying issues. It is even possible that you might want to make a bargain with your son—attend family counseling for six months or a year and if he still wants emancipation after that, you will not object.

    You would also be wise to seek the counsel of a trustworthy North Carolina family law attorney for a deeper analysis of your specific situation and the options available to you. By calling 910-341-7570 (or 877-593-4233 toll-free from anywhere in the state), you can schedule a confidential appointment with one of Speaks Law Firm’s compassionate lawyers. We will do everything we can to help you keep your family intact.

     

  • My wife died in a Wilmington drunk driving car accident. There is already a criminal DWI case pending against the truck driver who killed her. Can I sue for wrongful death too, or does the criminal case make that impossible?

    We are very sorry to hear about your loss.

    Yes, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver. That lawsuit will take place under the rules of North Carolina civil law. The state’s case against the driver will follow criminal law. One type of legal action does not lock out the other.

    You may have heard that there is something called double jeopardy that prevents someone from being tried twice for the same offense. That’s absolutely true, and it’s a guarantee embedded in the U.S. Constitution. However, it only applies to criminal cases within one jurisdiction. North Carolina cannot try this truck driver twice for the same incident of vehicular homicide while intoxicated.

    The existence of a criminal case has no bearing on whether you can bring a civil lawsuit. In fact, it may enhance your prospect of winning a judgment. Your North Carolina fatal injury attorney may be able to get useful documentation from police and prosecutors while investigating the case. If the truck driver’s criminal case is resolved with a verdict or guilty plea before your lawsuit comes to trial, the driver’s insurance company may be more willing to settle outside of court.

    You should bear in mind two other important differences between the state’s criminal case and your civil case:

    • The standard of evidence needed to win is different. The state has a tougher burden of proof in a criminal case. The prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the truck driver met the requirement of the criminal statute for the charge. That may require showing a precise degree of intoxication, for instance. In your civil case, your attorney must show by a preponderance of the evidence—meaning “more likely than not”—that the truck driver was negligent, and that this negligence led to your wife’s death.
    • The ultimate goal of the court process is different. The state’s criminal case is directed toward the goals of punishment, deterrence, and social control. A winning case leads to prison or jail time for the truck driver. On the other hand, the goal of a North Carolina wrongful death lawsuit will be to compensate you for your losses in the only way possible—with monetary damages.

    Everyone involved recognizes that money is not what you most want, but the legal system cannot bring your wife back to you. Monetary damages or a settlement affords you a cushion against the extra expenses and hardships you face because your spouse is lost. We know that can’t fill the hole in your life, but we all hope it can help the recovery process in some small way.

    For more information about the biggest mistakes people make in auto injury cases that cost them thousands and the most effective ways to avoid these mistakes please call (877) 593-4233 to request a free copy of my book, The North Carolina Auto Injury Book, 20 Secrets to Maximize your Claim or to speak with an experienced professional about your case.

     

     

  • My fiancé says we should have a prenuptial agreement before we get married. Is this really necessary? It seems unromantic to me.

    Let’s answer the last bit of your question first: Yes, it’s probably unromantic. But that’s only to be expected—love and romance aren’t practical things. They tend to be all consuming. They are focused on the here-and-now and don’t look forward to the future.

    And—let’s face it—sometimes romantic love doesn’t last. Bedazzled as you are right now, you don’t want to think about that, of course. But acknowledging that sometimes people fall out of love isn’t going to doom your relationship.

    People can enter a marriage in North Carolina with vastly different expectations of what married life is like, and with significantly different resources. In some cases, it just makes sense to plan for what might happen in the future if the marriage does not work out, just as you and your fiancée will probably be altering your life insurance coverage now that you are starting a family together.

    A prenuptial agreement is a legal contract between people soon to marry, committing both parties in advance to certain agreements if a divorce occurs. Such a document can:

    • Specify what possessions (and what debts) from each partner are considered separate property rather than marital property.
    • Create special agreements between the two of you—for instance, awarding one partner a greater share of the marital property if the other partner commits adultery.
    • Establish a process for negotiating other issues to reach a divorce settlement more easily, if that becomes necessary.

    About half of all marriages in the United States simply do not last. Yours may be one of the fortunate ones, but you should not gamble on that. If either partner in a soon-to-be-married couple believes that you need a North Carolina prenuptial agreement, then you owe it to each other—at a minimum—to discuss the matter.

    As North Carolina family law attorneys, we can tell you that the process of developing a prenuptial agreement can be a positive experience for a couple. When marriages fail, it is often because of money issues—and even more often because the partners have never had a frank conversation about income, wealth, and debt. Discussing finances before marriage opens the lines of communication on many other issues.

    In rare cases, holding this conversation shows a couple that they simply aren’t compatible with one another. Now, that’s sad, but surely it’s better to find this out before marriage rather than after. And in other cases, the couple discovers that they are in fundamental agreement about so many things that they decide not to sign the prenup after it is drafted.

    If you are ready to begin the process of drawing up a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, or if you just need further information, call 877-593-4233 toll-free to connect with a Wilmington matrimonial lawyer at Speaks Law Firm. We can work with you and your fiancée (or negotiate with his attorneys) to craft a fair agreement that reflects your wishes in a way that fosters your loving relationship.

     

  • I hurt my neck and back in a Wilmington automobile accident last year. If I sue the person at fault, will my settlement or damages cover my visits to a chiropractor?

    When a jury decides the damages you receive for a personal injury case, they will consider the amounts your attorney requests for the various categories of losses you have suffered: medical bills, permanent disability, lost income from work, emotional suffering, and so on. Those same categories would be used in negotiations between your lawyer and the attorney for the insurance company to try to agree on a settlement amount and avoid a trial.

    Regardless of whether you receive compensation from a jury verdict or a settlement, however, you are under no obligation to spend the money in any specific way. You would probably do well to consider your attorney’s analysis of your future needs, however. If your North Carolina personal injury lawyer has persuaded the jury that you will need a wheelchair access ramp built for your home, you definitely need to consider spending some of your award to have a ramp constructed.

    We know several of our former clients who decided to treat their injury settlements as some sort of windfall. They spent a significant part of the money on a vacation, or on a home entertainment system, or as a down payment on a new car. This almost always turns out to be a shortsighted approach. Remember, any compensation you receive is meant to cover your legitimate injury-related costs, including future expenses. If you spend a hefty chunk of that sum on luxuries, you are likely not to have the money you require for foreseeable future needs.

    Spending money on health care, though, is a legitimate type of spending. If you find that chiropractic adjustments give you relief from the pain of your neck or back injury, then by all means you should continue that therapy.

    Can chiropractic care undermine your legal case?

    Relying heavily on chiropractic treatments before your case goes to trial may put your legal case at risk. Chiropractic care grew out of unconventional medical theories at the end of the 19th century. Even today, some practitioners are scornful of standard medical care. Critics have labeled chiropractic medicine a fringe belief and a pseudoscience. In a jury trial, the opposing attorney could make two strong arguments against your case based on your reliance on chiropractic care:

    • Because you’re rejecting the advantages of conventional medicine in favor of a fringe belief system, you really aren’t concerned about taking care of your health needs—or not concerned about “health” in the same way the jury members understand the term. If you’re not going to take care of yourself, you don’t really deserve a damage award.
    • Because chiropractic adjustments cost so much less than conventional health care, even if the jury decides you deserve an award, it can be a small one to cover your modest future chiropractic therapy.

    How your attorney can get you the maximum settlement available

    Listen carefully to the advice your personal injury attorney gives you. Almost all North Carolina injury lawyers will want your medical condition to be evaluated and monitored by a conventional physician—ideally, one with extensive experience in neck and spine injury cases. Your attorney will expect you to follow that doctor’s recommendations at least until the trial is concluded. Those recommendations will usually include conventional physical therapy, although some medical doctors will also permit chiropractic adjustments in addition.

    If you need an attorney you can trust to deal with your case in a straightforward manner, call 877-593-4233 to connect with the traffic injury lawyers at Speaks Law Firm. We don’t try to confuse you with legal jargon or keep you in the dark about our strategy. We’ll tell you the truth, even if that means explaining why you shouldn’t rely on your favorite chiropractor.

    Give us a call today. In return for your inquiry, we will send you a FREE copy of our book, The North Carolina Auto Injury Book, and we can schedule you for a FREE, confidential consultation about your case.