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.
- Page 11
They’re going to arrest me! How can they arrest me? They didn’t find any drugs on me! I can’t be convicted, can I?
When you say “they,” you mean North Carolina law enforcement officials, right? Oh, yes, they can arrest you—and you can be convicted, even if they didn’t find any contraband on you.
Under North Carolina criminal law, possession of illegal drugs—or any other sort of forbidden material—can be established in either of two ways:
- Active possession means that you had the drugs or other contraband on your person or in your immediate possession, such as in a purse or backpack.
- Constructive possession means that even though you did not have drugs or other contraband immediately at hand, you controlled access to where the material was stored or hidden and had knowledge of the material’s location.
Constructive possession in a North Carolina controlled substance case is necessarily a matter of circumstantial evidence. This means that the police may not be able to prove conclusively that you were the owner of the drugs, but they can show you acted in such a way that the owner would in similar circumstances. Some types of evidence that could be used against you include:
- Witness testimony that you said you knew where the drugs were stored or hidden.
- Your attempts to dispose of the drugs when you realized law enforcement was suspicious of your behavior.
- The discovery of the drugs in an area you control access to, such as your house or your vehicle.
- The presence of your possessions or property in the vicinity where the drugs were found.
- Your ownership of drug paraphernalia.
- Your suspicious, nervous, or paranoid behavior when questioned or detained by law enforcement officers.
Maybe you don’t have to go to prison on a drugs charge
There are important things to remember about the use of constructive possession to connect you to contraband of any sort, such as illegal drugs:
- The prosecution will have to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drugs are yours. Your defense attorney can rebut the prosecution by showing that circumstantial incriminating facts do not prove you controlled the drugs.
- The search for the drugs must have followed all applicable legal rules. If there was a flaw in the warrant or its execution, your lawyer can try to have any evidence excluded from the trial.
Constructive possession cases are extremely fact-specific. If the prosecutor has even one of the less-important facts wrong, your defense attorney can throw doubt on the whole case against you.
A skilled Wilmington legal defense attorney is essential if you are accused of drug crimes in Pender, Brunswick, or New Hanover County. At Speaks Law Firm, our North Carolina drug possession lawyers have extensive experience in puncturing prosecutors’ shoddy casework.
Every day you wait allows the prosecution’s case to get stronger, so don’t delay. Call Speaks Law Firm today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to get our legal defense team working for the best available outcome in your case.
I want a divorce, but my wife says she won’t give me one. What can I do?
Stop worrying. Your wife doesn’t get to veto your divorce. She doesn’t “give you” a divorce; only the North Carolina courts grant divorces.
Divorce in North Carolina is a no-fault system, called absolute divorce. The marriage can be dissolved when either spouse demands it, as long as the husband and wife have lived separate and apart for one year. This means that you must be living in a separate residence from your wife; it’s not sufficient if you share a house but sleep in separate bedrooms.
You (or your wife) must also have been a state resident for at least six months before you can begin a North Carolina divorce action.
The process begins with the filing of a petition for divorce at the district court in the county where you live, or where your wife lives. The court clerk will accept your paperwork, and in a matter of days your spouse will be notified that divorce proceedings are underway. She will then have 30 days to respond to this notice (with a possible extension to 60 days).
About the only defense your wife can make to deny you a divorce is proof that you have not been living separately for the required one-year period. In the majority of cases, the spouse does not respond to the filing and the divorce is granted within three months of the initial filing date.
Another provision in North Carolina family law allows for a legal action called divorce from bed and board. Unlike absolute divorce, the divorce from bed and board requires the plaintiff—the person starting the action—to prove that the other spouse (the defendant) performed some sort of misconduct. A successful action for divorce from bed and board does not end the marriage, but it imposes a legal separation on the couple. This can become a starting point for the required year of living separate and apart that is a required for absolute divorce.
The no-fault divorce in North Carolina can be simple enough for a couple to handle it cooperatively without attorneys. When there is disagreement between the spouses—for instance, in your case—you are advised to retain the services of an experienced North Carolina divorce lawyer. The Wilmington divorce attorneys at Speaks Law Firm offer legal representation at reasonable prices. Call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to have your questions answered or to schedule a consultation.
I enjoy riding a motorcycle, in part because of the sense of freedom it gives me. I'm very offended by North Carolina's motorcycle helmet law. Why should the state have the power to compel me to wear a helmet? I should be allowed to take a calculated risk if I want to, and it's none of the government's business.
No doubt you have noticed that every state has its own rules about motorcycle helmets. For instance, in South Carolina, the law only requires that riders under age 21 must wear helmets. In contrast, since 2008 North Carolina has required motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Does the government have an interest in regulating the dangerous activities you may do? Before we answer that, let's point out that there are various levels of danger we face in everyday life. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is more dangerous than sitting on the divan at home. Driving a car is riskier than crossing a street. Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car.
Point One: Motorcycles Are Risky
Data supports that claim. Only about two percent of all registered vehicles in North Carolina are motorcycles, but about ten percent of all motor vehicle fatalities involve motorcycles. Thus, motorcycle riders are hugely over-represented in North Carolina fatal traffic accident statistics. The motorcyclist is at fault in over 80 percent of these fatal crashes.
Because America puts a high value on personal responsibility and individual freedom, people are permitted to do things such as ride motorcycles and drive cars, even though such activities pose risks both to the biker (and his passenger) and to society in general. However, we also allow government to set rules for risky activities to protect the well-being of everyone in the community. The tricky part—as you clearly recognize—is finding the right balancing point between personal freedom and government overreach.
Point Two: Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives
We can also pin a number on the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets: 37 percent. According to research by a HYPERLINK "http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/809861.pdf" National Highway Traffic Safety Administration division, helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing fatalities—a number that was revised upward in 2004 to reflect improvements in helmet design and materials. As motorcycle injury lawyers in Wilmington, we believe all riders and passengers should wear approved safety helmets, even in states where the laws make them optional.
Point Three: The Case for Government Action
All of this brings us back to the essential question you posed at the start: should the state government have the power to force riders to wear motorcycle helmets in North Carolina? We don't want to bog you down with stuff about political philosophy, but there are two important arguments that the state government should have this authority:
- The argument from the social contract. Everyone in a society gives up a bit of their freedom to the government, which is charged with the responsibility to protect citizens from unnecessary harm and to support the public interest. The North Carolina legislature has decided that a universal helmet law best protects the public interest of all citizens. If you disagree, you have the option to mobilize your fellow citizens to get the law changed. While the law remains on the books, you best demonstrate social responsibility by obeying the law and wearing your helmet when you ride.
- The argument from hypothetical future regret. Imagine that you chose not to wear your helmet. If you got in an accident and were seriously injured, your future self would have profound regrets that he or she had not worn the helmet. The judgment of this future self that you should have worn a helmet to minimize your injuries is sufficient to justify laws compelling riders to wear helmets even when they would prefer otherwise.
Point Four: Helmet Use and Legal Rights
Your choice not to wear a helmet does not affect your legal rights if you are injured in a North Carolina motorcycle accident (or a biker accident in another state) due to someone else's negligence. You still retain the right to seek compensation for your losses, including damaged property and physical injuries.
If you have been involved in a bike crash, call Speaks Law Firm at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 and say you need to talk with a personal injury attorney. We will schedule a FREE and confidential consultation about your case at your convenience, where you can see how Speaks Law Firm can provide you the legal representation you need.
Does North Carolina recognize common law marriage? How long does a couple have to live together before they are considered legally married in North Carolina?
No, there is no such thing as common law marriage in North Carolina.
Most jurisdictions in the United States have discarded the notion that couples can declare themselves married simply by living together as man and wife for a period of time. This type of common law marriage was so-called because it was rooted in ancient traditions that precede our modern understanding of how governments create laws. Today, the common practice is statutory marriage: marriage defined and regulated by the state according to an official legal code.
Only statutory marriage is legally valid in North Carolina. Indeed, North Carolina is one of the few states that never has recognized common law marriage.
We should be clear on a key distinction here. Common law marriage is not the same as a couple "living together." In a common law marriage, the couple presents themselves to the community as a married husband and wife. A cohabiting couple do not necessarily consider themselves married (in fact, they almost certainly don't think of themselves that way).
Currently, the following states (plus the District of Columbia) recognize common law marriages as valid for their residents:
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
In a common law marriage, the couple may not apply for a marriage license (or whatever similar public records are used in their jurisdiction) and may not hold a public ceremony before witnesses to memorialize their marriage. Nevertheless, they will be entitled to every legal benefit and protection that applies to all married couples, if their state government recognizes common law marriages as legitimate.
Constitutional Issues: The Full Faith and Credit Clause
Although every state sets its own rules about marriage and divorce, the U.S. Constitution has specific authority to harmonize these different laws. The Full Faith and Credit Clause in Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution, says: "Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state." Because of this law, when one state authorizes a marriage or divorce, all states must follow.
If a state recognizes common law marriage, then a couple married under the common law of that state must be treated as having a legitimate marriage in other states. For instance, a couple with a South Carolina common-law marriage will continue to be considered married even if they move permanently to North Carolina.
No. No state has any sort of "common law divorce." A couple married by the common law in a state that allows it must follow the standard divorce procedure in the state they live in.
Consult a family law firm if you're puzzled by North Carolina marriage law
Speaks Law Firm should be your top choice when questions arise about the law for marriage and divorce. Our Wilmington family law attorneys provide legal representation in divorce and marriage matters for clients in New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick, Columbus, and Robeson Counties. Call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 for a quick response to your family law needs.
I just bought my first motorcycle. I’m a little concerned about safety. My biker friends think that’s funny—they like to show off their road burn and boast about how drunk they were when a particular accident happened. Are they right to say that motorcycle crashes are no big deal?
Yeah, we’ve met some bikers like that too. One guy we know liked to say, “Chicks dig scars,” right up to the day he had a fatal motorcycle crash near Lumberton.
Don’t believe any of that macho posturing: motorcycle safety is extremely important. Any North Carolina personal injury lawyer will tell you that motorcycle crashes need to be taken very seriously.
About 80,000 to 90,000 people are injured every year in the United States while riding motorcycles. Of these, 4,000 to 5,000 die. Injuries to legs and feet are the most common after a motorcycle accident in North Carolina, but in second place are head and spinal cord injuries. Those accidents can lead to comas, brain damage, lasting paralysis, and death.
Accident injuries: How bad? How often?
There is a qualitative difference between motorcycle injuries and injuries to people riding in passenger vehicles. When we examine the statistics comparing accident severity, motorcyclists always come out the worst. There are three basic reasons for this:
- Riders in a passenger vehicle are sheltered in a protective cage of metal and plastic. Bikers have nothing but leather and fabric riding gear protecting their bodies.
- Cars have safety devices—seat belts and airbags—to cushion passengers in the event of a collision. Those devices are not practical on a motorcycle.
- When a motorcycle suddenly stops in a collision, the full momentum is transferred to the rider, who will often be thrown from the bike. Many motorcycle crash injuries happen when the rider slides along the ground or is thrown into an object. It is much less common for people to be ejected from a passenger vehicle during a traffic accident in North Carolina.
In contrast to accident severity, there is the issue of accident frequency. Those statistics also show motorcyclists face excessive risks. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, motorcyclists have over five and a half times the fatality rate of passenger cars based on every vehicle on the road, and over 35 times the death rate per mile traveled. It’s only because there are so many more cars than motorcycles on the road that we don’t recognize the carnage. With the rising price of gasoline in recent years, there are signs that more people are moving to motorcycles as their preferred mode of transportation, and we can expect fatality rates to climb further if this trend continues.
Tell your friends that they’re wrong: a motorcycle accident is a HUGE deal. So far, they have been lucky. It’s time for your buddies to grow up.
Help when you need it
If, someday, you are hurt in a North Carolina motorcycle crash because someone else wasn’t acting responsibly, you can count on the Speaks Law Firm to provide experienced legal representation if you seek compensation for your injuries. Call 910-341-7570 or 877-593-4233 (toll-free) to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Wilmington. Give us a chance to tell you how we can work to get you recovery for your medical care, lost wages, damaged vehicle, and pain and suffering.
If I win my North Carolina auto accident injury lawsuit, do I have to repay my health insurance company?
Maybe. It depends on your health insurance policy.
If you are covered by medical insurance, your insurer may have paid for a portion of your care after your traffic accident in North Carolina. You, too, would have been held responsible for paying any deductible and co-payment amounts specified in your policy.
If you later get a settlement or jury award from your lawsuit against the person liable for your accident, your insurance company may ask for the money it paid for your treatment to be returned. Your insurer’s reasoning is that, as long as someone else is legally responsible for paying your medical bills, they should not be forced to do so.
There may be a specific provision in your health insurance policy that gives the insurer the right to recoup the money it spent on your behalf if your injuries are due to someone else’s fault. Even if your policy does not specifically grant the insurance company this right, insurers may rely on a common-law principle, called the right of subrogation, to make a claim on some of your settlement money.
How this works out in practice depends on whether you have won your case against the driver who injured you:
- If your case is still in progress, your health insurance company may join you as a plaintiff against the person who caused the accident. The insurance company would only be able to seek damages up to the amount of money they spent on giving you health care benefits.
- If you have won your case or settled the claim against the person responsible, your health insurance company could end up suing you to recover the benefits it gave you. In many cases, the insurer will begin by politely asking for the money—using what’s called a demand letter—addressed to you and your North Carolina traffic injury attorney. Only if you refuse to pay will a lawsuit be filed against you.
What to do in a North Carolina health insurance subrogation case
Ultimately, you will probably end up repaying your insurance company. The services of an experienced Wilmington personal injury law firm can be helpful here: your attorney can negotiate with the insurer to make sure you remain compensated fairly for your deductible, co payment, and out-of-pocket health care expenses. In some cases, insurance companies cannot claim the right of subrogation, and your lawyer should be able to advise you when you need not pay.
Even if you are compelled to reimburse your health insurer, that only means you will not be “double-dipping” compensation for medical bills. And the insurance company cannot touch any settlement you get for pain and suffering, lost work income, disability, disfigurement, property losses, and occupational and rehabilitative therapy.
The skilled traffic accident lawyers at Speaks Law Firm in Wilmington are ready to answer any of your questions about your potential lawsuit. Call them today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 to schedule a free evaluation of your legal case. Just for calling, they would like to send you a FREE copy of The North Carolina Auto Injury Book by R. Clarke Speaks.
How can I return to using my maiden name after my divorce? Do I have to wait a certain period of time?
In North Carolina, you are allowed to call yourself anything you want, as long as you don’t do it for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. On an informal basis, you can even tell friends that you are resuming the use of your maiden name before your North Carolina divorce is final.
Many clients who are in the process of a divorce want a more formalized name change. You can speed up matters greatly by making the request for a name change part of your divorce petition. The judge will make your name change part of the final divorce judgment.
If you are already divorced and want to go back to the name you used before marriage, that’s certainly possible. The North Carolina Courts have made the form for requesting a reversion to your maiden name available online. You will fill out the form and present it at the clerk’s office in the civil division of your county courthouse. You will also need to show a valid photo ID and a photocopy of the divorce judgment. There will be a small fee for this process.
Synchronizing your other forms of identification
Once you have the court order allowing you to resume the use of your premarital name, it’s time to tidy up a few other identification issues. If your workplace requires identification tags, cards, or documents, the authorization from the North Carolina courts is probably going to be enough to get new ID issued. But what about your Social Security card, your driver’s license, and your passport?
Social Security card. Based on our experience as divorce attorneys in Wilmington, we recommend you start here. You can download the form for obtaining a replacement card from the Social Security Administration. We recommend that you take this completed form to the nearest U.S. Social Security office for processing. You will need to bring along the original state court documents that authorized your name change.
Driver's license. Once you have your new Social Security card, you can apply for a duplicate North Carolina driver license with your “new” premarriage name. You are, in fact, legally obligated to tell the Division of Motor Vehicles of your name change within 60 days of the change. However, because the DMV compares its name registry with records from the U.S. Social Security Administration, you will need to change your Social Security identification first.
When you go to your local DMV office to apply for a duplicate license, you will need to take your divorce decree showing the name change or your separate court decree authorizing the reversion to your maiden name.
U.S. passport. The precise form to use depends on how long ago your passport was issued. If your current passport was issued within the last year, you will file a request to amend the name; there is no fee involved. If your passport is over a year old, you will refile for a new passport, and the regular fee schedule will apply. In most cases, the matter can be handled by mail, according to the U.S. State Department.
Further information is available
If you have other questions about resuming the use of your maiden name after a North Carolina divorce, we encourage you to contact Speaks Law Firm. Our experienced New Hanover County family law attorneys want to make the transition back to single life as easy as possible. Connect with us today about any divorce issue by calling 910-341-7570 locally or 877-593-4233 from anywhere in the state.
If I get injured in a car wreck, my attorney only gets paid if he wins the case for me. Why can’t I pay my North Carolina criminal defense lawyer the same way, with a contingency fee?
You won’t find any attorney in the state who works that way. The ethical rules of the North Carolina State Bar forbid contingency fees for North Carolina criminal defense attorneys. There is a very narrow exception for criminal asset forfeiture cases.
Because a lawyer cannot practice his profession without the approval of the State Bar, we would have to follow this rule even if we disagreed with it.
In fact, we do agree with it. Contingency fees would be harmful to criminal cases.
A brief review: what is a contingency fee?
Typically, for personal injury cases, an attorney will not charge the client any fee for his services at the start. However, when the case ends because the client accepts a settlement offer or a jury delivers an award for damages, the lawyer will collect a portion of the total amount. At the outset, both the client and the lawyer agree what that portion shall be. It’s usually set at 30 to 40 percent of the total recovery.
This is called a contingency fee because the amount the lawyer gets is contingent upon—or depends on—the amount of the settlement. If the case goes to the jury and the jury sides with the defendant, then the attorney gets nothing.
In contrast, billing for criminal defense attorneys is usually based both on a fixed fee schedule for some procedures and an hourly rate for other types of work. At your initial consultation with your North Carolina criminal defense lawyer, he should explain in detail his law firm’s billing procedures. The client is expected to pay in advance for the lawyer’s services.
Justifying the ethical rules
We can’t be perfectly sure about what persuaded the state bar adopted this ethical rule. However, it’s not too hard to come up with some reasonable explanations for why contingency fees in North Carolina criminal law might be harmful to the client and to the justice system.
- There’s no money to base the fee on. A civil case has a final cash value, the settlement amount or the damage award. In most criminal trials, no money is transferred from the loser to the winner, so there is no way to calculate a contingency fee.
- A criminal case is not voluntary. In civil lawsuits, the client has voluntary control; he doesn’t have to file a lawsuit if he has been injured, but may do so if that will advance his interests. The lawyer in this instance has a voluntary choice too: if the personal injury attorney thinks a car accident suit cannot win, he can refuse to take on that client rather than risk doing a lot of work but collecting no fee. In contrast, a person has no choice about going to court if she has been accused of a criminal offense: the government makes the decision. She is entitled to legal representation, so a lawyer cannot ethically refuse to defend her even if he thinks you she be convicted. Attorneys will typically charge a fixed fee for criminal defense because they are ethically bound to work for anyone who wants to hire them for that fee.
- Contingency fees in criminal cases could destabilize the justice system, especially with regard to plea bargains. If the defense lawyer has a financial interest in a criminal case, he might broker a plea deal even when he thought he could win at trial, just to guarantee a fee for a lesser charge (and to avoid the risk of no payment for losing outright). Indeed, defense attorneys would be so fearful of losing at trial that prosecutors could grossly overcharge defendants, knowing that any plea offer would likely be accepted. But some lawyers, confident of their skills, will be willing to bet they can sway the jury even with a weak case: they may go to trial in the hopes of winning their contingency fees, even when the prudent course would be to negotiate a plea deal.
Contact Speaks Law Firm for ethical criminal defense in Wilmington
No North Carolina law firm takes its ethical obligations more seriously than our team. We are absolutely committed to seeking the best possible result for our clients. Call us today at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 if you are facing felony or misdemeanor charges, and let us explain how we can give you the effective and experienced legal representation you need.
My husband and I were married in Dallas in 2009. Even though we were married in Texas, can we get a divorce in North Carolina?
Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution contains what is called the Full Faith and Credit Clause. This says that state governments have to respect the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Texas and North Carolina—and all other states—have to honor the regulatory decisions of each other. Because of this clause, your Texas marriage is recognized as valid in North Carolina (and every other state). Because of this clause, is you get a North Carolina divorce, that divorce will be recognized in Texas (and also every other state).
This is true even though every state has slightly different procedures and laws governing marriage and divorce.
The first step—which you may have already accomplished—is to establish residency in North Carolina. To do that, either you or your spouse must live in the state without interruption for at least six months.
The next step—again, something that you may already have done—is to separate from your spouse by living apart for at least a year. This period can begin even if you are living out of state, but you must be able to specify the date when you started living separately and apart.
What happens next
After you have satisfied the one-year waiting period, you can begin the legal process for a North Carolina no-fault divorce. The following list summarizes what will follow.
- You will file for divorce in the county where you or your spouse lives.
- You will arrange for your spouse to be served a copy of your divorce complaint. You can hire a process server, or you can ask the sheriff of the county where you spouse lives to deliver the papers.
- One month later, you can request the court to schedule your divorce hearing.
- If you on amicable terms with your spouse, this is a good time to negotiate over dividing assets and debts and making plans for alimony, child custody, and child support. You can also rely on your North Carolina divorce lawyer to confer with your spouse’s lawyer to settle these issues.
- Go to the divorce hearing. If you and your spouse have not yet resolved all the issues of your marriage, the judge will schedule a trial date. If you have come to an agreement, that document will become the framework for the court’s orders for the divorce.
It’s not really that simple
What we have outlined here is absolutely the simplest case of a North Carolina divorce. Because unexpected complications can arise at any point, you are best prepared if you have representation from a Wilmington family law firm at your side. Contact the Speaks Law Firm at 910-341-7570 or 877-593-4233 toll-free today to learn how we can help get you through this difficult time on the best terms available.
What should if I am charged with the crime of larceny in Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina?
A person is guilty of larceny if that person (1) takes (2) the property of another (3) without permission and (4) with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently (5) while knowing that he or she is not entitled to it. InNorth Carolina, a person can be charged with shoplifting without ever leaving the store. This means that if you put something in your pocket or your purse, you can be charged with a shoplifting offense. Misdemeanor Larceny is a class 1 offense punishable by up to 120 days in jail. An experienced attorney may be able to demonstrate reasonable doubt and obtain a verdict of “Not Guilty”. In the alternative, an attorney may be able to negotiate a plea arrangement that would protect your criminal record. Deferred Prosecution agreements are sometimes available for those who have no previous criminal convictions. For those who have previous criminal convictions, the analysis is more complicated. An effective attorney can almost always help you achieve a more favorable result.
A Word of Caution: Everyday I see people go into court and attempt to handle these types of criminal charges themselves. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it is a disaster. I want to grab those people, pull them to the side and say, "Go get a lawyer before this gets worse, please!" I am ethically forbidden from doing that. I get frequent calls for people or parents asking if I can undo one of these disasters. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I cannot. It is much safer to get an experienced criminal defense attorney from the beginning. If you cannot afford an attorney you may be able to qualify for an appointed attorney if you are poor. In either case, I recommend that you get a lawyer anytime you risk prison or conviction. (A conviction will show up on your criminal record forever).