Raleigh Cigarette Trafficking Lawyer

Cigarette Trafficking & Smuggling

Federal law prohibits the trafficking of contraband cigarettes across state lines and makes it unlawful for any person knowingly to make any false statement or representation with respect to the information required by this chapter to be kept in the records of any person who ships, sells, or distributes any quantity of cigarettes in excess of 10,000 in a single transaction. A person who violates federal law can face either up to 3 years or up to 5 years in prison, in addition to other penalties.  In addition, the misuse of proceeds of this conduct often constitutes money laundering, which is punishable up to 20 years.

Contraband cigarettes are a quantity in excess of 10,000 cigarettes, which bear no evidence of the payment of applicable State or local cigarette taxes in the State or locality where such cigarettes are found, if the State or local government requires a stamp, impression, or other indication to be placed on packages or other containers of cigarettes to evidence payment of cigarette taxes, and which are in the possession of any person not otherwise authorized by law.

Oftentimes these schemes involve the acquisition of large numbers of cigarettes from a North Carolina or other low-tax state warehouse where the affixed stamp, if required, indicates that the appropriate tax has been paid in that state.  But, instead of selling the cigarettes in the state where the tax was paid, members of the conspiracy will ship the cigarette to high-tax states, in which they are either illegally sold on the street corner, or sold in bodegas or convenience stores by retailers who have not paid the full tax.

The conspirators pocket the difference between the tax paid in the low tax state and the price sold in the high tax state, and never pay the high-tax state the proper tax revenue required.

While individual states attempt to enforce their tax regimes, in the U.S. the federal government will prosecute cigarette trafficking cases because these conspiracies tend to be cross-border criminal affairs where single jurisdictions are unable to keep pace with the conduct.

The Chetson Firm has defended clients accused of either money laundering or cigarette trafficking or smuggling, and has worked to achieve excellent outcomes, including in preventing the seizure of assets that otherwise are potentially forfeitable to the government.  Mr. Chetson has represent defendants of various backgrounds, particularly Yemeni or other Arab backgrounds who have been accused of these crimes, and has worked to try to avoid immigration consequences and the implication that the proceeds in these cases have gone to fund overseas terrorist organizations.

Federal Prosecutors Told to Resign

CNN is reporting that the Biden administration has asked nearly all of the 93 United States Attorneys, or federal prosecutors, to resign their positions.

United States Attorneys are the chief prosecutors within the regional offices – for instance, the Eastern District of North Carolina – throughout the country that represent the federal government in federal court. Each office is headed by a Senate-confirmed United States Attorney and then staffed with any number of assistant and special assistant United States Attorneys.

These prosecutors represent the Government in criminal and civil cases, prosecuting and defending the government (depending on the case), in local federal district courts.

It is common for the heads of these offices, who are political appointments, to either resign or be fired upon the inauguration of a president from a different party. President Trump effectively fired 46 holdover Obama-era prosecutors in 2017, including prosecutors who were thought to be potentially investigating Trump or election-related issues.

Ultimately if the federal prosecutors do not voluntarily resign, they can be fired, as they serve at the pleasure of the president. New chief prosecutors would need to be approved by the Senate in confirmation proceedings; in the meantime, statute provides that career deputies within the local offices would run the office in an “acting” capacity.

Impersonating an Officer

I remember in April 2017 when Joseph Michael Conover, the former “chief” of a private security company was sentenced by then Senior Resident Judge Donald Stephens for felonious obstruction of justice, four counts of failure to discharge the duties of his office, four counts of simple assault, three counts of misdemeanor obstruction of justice and one count of false imprisonment.

I remember Judge Stephens calling him “as bad a cop as you could be.”

I also remember in 2019 a former Wake County Deputy was charged with a DWI and impersonating an officer when he allegedly showed the stopping officer his old Wake County Sheriff’s Office badge. I do not wish to link to the article because I cannot find the case in the court system – it appears to have been dismissed and expunged – but I recall thinking that this person, however good a person he is, should not be in a position of power over other people. Later he was charged with misdemeanor larceny.

It would be absolutely unconscionable for a person in authority (a police officer or public official) to have been charged with impersonating an officer, or obstructing justice, or illegally attempting to serve a search warrant and for that charge to have been sealed or otherwise hidden from public view by authorities. And I know that would never happen in Wake County.

I remember thinking that this conduct does not reflect the good work that I see police do every day and that the old adage, “no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop,” is true.

Impersonating or, as in Conover’s case, overstepping authority is as bad as it gets because citizens understand that every interaction with a police officer is an interaction that can result in the severest consequences: citations, charges, arrest, or even, if force is used, injury or death.

Police officers or people falsely claiming to be police officers in order illegally to enter homes or conduct arrests violate the most precious rights a human being has in this society.

Someone, knowing he lacks the legal authority to enter a home or conduct an arrest, acts in that way simply cannot be entrusted with the special authority we put in officers of the law. Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers of good conscience and good faith, who see the consequences of arrests every day, know this fact in their hearts.

All of this is to say that someone who commits that crime or violates that trust is still a human being, who deserves our love and our support.


In some criminal cases, your attorney may recommend that you perform community service to improve your chances for a successful outcome in your case. In other cases, you may be ordered by a court to complete community service.

If you’ve been asked or ordered to complete community service, you should be sure that whatever letter you get for your lawyer or the court has the dates on which the community service was performed, and the total number of hours completed. In addition, you should make sure that the letter is written by someone who provides contact information (so that a court can verify that the community service was performed) and is on letterhead (so that it is official).

If you’re in Wake County and need to perform community service, some possibilities include:

These – or other – charities and governmental agencies may be willing to allow you to volunteer with them. Before performing any volunteer work, you should first discuss this issue with your lawyer to make sure that your volunteer work will help (and not hurt) your case. In addition, you should make sure that the charity or non-profit is aware that you are performing your volunteer work for a court-recommended purpose so that they are aware they should give you a letter after you’ve completed your volunteer hours.

You should never talk to people at the charity about the facts of your case. If they ask, you can have them talk to your lawyer.

Surrendering into Federal Custody

Watch Brandon Craig Fellows on TikTok as he is driven to federal court to surrender himself for participating in the insurrection at the Capitol building. Fellows was interviewed following the insurrection, insisting he had “no regrets” for disrupting Congress’ efforts to certify Joe Biden as president:

Fellows, who lives in a converted school bus, said he stopped working last spring because of fears of Covid-19. But he said he became disillusioned when New York state denied him unemployment benefits. “For awhile, in early March and April, I was super poor,” he said.

And this is the core problem: an economy that does not work anymore, that leaves people living in extreme precarity or witnessing friends and family facing precarious living conditions, high debt, lack of good jobs, and lack of good health care.

Attorney Profile

As one of North Carolina’s preeminent criminal defense lawyers, widely respected as a federal trial practitioner, regarded by judges and prosecutors as “always prepared” and diligent, Damon Chetson has represented more than 1500 clients in more than a decade of litigation throughout courts in North Carolina. From large multi-defendant conspiracies, public corruption cases, drug trafficking conspiracies, to notorious cases involving the abduction and torture of a prosecutor’s father, Damon is aggressive in the defense of his clients at both the trial and appellate levels.

A graduate of the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania and then as a law school graduate of the University of North Carolina, Damon spent three years in between at the University of Virginia where he focused on post-war German history.  His Master’s Thesis was on the German Social Democratic Party in the after the fall of the Nazi regime.

Mr. Chetson next worked in public policy in Washington, DC and in Arizona, where one of his personal interests was the mass incarceration of individuals in the American criminal justice system.  As a law school clerk at the Wake County Public Defender’s office in 2007, he located the alibi that proved his client could not have committed an Armed Robbery on Tarboro Street.

In the past decade, he has represented people accused of both misdemeanors and felonies, and is familiar to judges on both the state and federal benches as a diligent and articulate defender of his client’s interests.


24/7 Raleigh Criminal Lawyer

1. 24/7 Accessibility

Since 2009, Damon Chetson has provided round-the-clock accessibility to people facing high stakes criminal litigation in both state and federal courts.  We understand that criminal charges and investigations can occur at any time, day or night, weekday or weekend, and that the ability to contact and consult confidentiality with an experienced specialist in state and federal criminal law can make the difference between a successful outcome and catastrophe.

We are available by phone, for free consultations, and via text message.  We make regular visits to jails and confinement facilities, and frequently do not charge for these visits. From our office in Raleigh, we can travel throughout North Carolina, and have represented clients in counties through eastern North Carolina, and in federal courts in the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts.

2. Straightforward, Clear Advice

We offer straightforward advice from the first (often free) consultation.  Our advice remains consistently grounded in the law and the facts as we understand them.  We do not begin changing our advice once the fee is paid.  We pride ourselves on being clear and direct with our clients, making sure they understand that our interests are aligned with their interests: in working toward the best possible outcome.

3. State and Federal Expertise

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law, and has been certified since 2016 by the North Carolina Bar’s Board of Specialization.  He has been admitted to each of the federal districts in North Carolina, and to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Damon is a Criminal Justice Act Panel Attorney, and a member of the Fourth Circuit’s Criminal Appeals Panel.  Damon is Lead Counsel with the Office of the Capital Defender’s (Death Penalty) Roster.  He is a SuperLawyer, and highly rated by Avvo and other ratings agencies.

4. Non-Judgmental Representation

Damon Chetson understands that everyone makes mistakes, and that the job of a criminal defense lawyer is to defend a client against the worst excesses of a brutal criminal justice system.  He does not judge, and does not bully clients into accepting plea agreements that can be harmful to their interests.

5. Always a Defense Lawyer

Mr. Chetson has never worked as a prosecutor, and has never bought into the mistaken notion that serving as a prosecutor makes a person a good defense lawyer.  Mr. Chetson has focused his skills on keeping people out of prison, and on keeping people free of criminal convictions.


Raleigh Cocaine Lawyer

Cocaine LeafCocaine cases in North Carolina can be punished in either state or federal courts, and through a variety of laws.  In state court, cocaine is punished always as a felony – possession, possession with intent to sell, manufacture, and deliver, or sale and delivery of cocaine and, in cases involving 28 grams or more of cocaine as trafficking by possession, transportation, or delivery involving mandatory minimum sentences that can range from 35 to 175 months in prison.

The same criminal acts can also be prosecuted in federal court, either as possession with the intent to distribute, distribution, or conspiracy cases involving punishments that range between 0 and 20 years, 5 and 40 years, or 10 to life, depending on the quantities.

While state cocaine cases can sometimes be resolved through deferred prosecution agreements, federal cocaine cases – colloquially called “drug trafficking” – are almost never subject to deferred prosecution agreements, and almost always result in at least some prison time, unless won at trial.  Federal cocaine cases that result in conviction are sentenced according to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, regulations drafted by the United States Sentencing Commission and considered advisory by judges.  Judges take these guidelines seriously, using them as the starting point to determine the ultimate sentence.

In either the state or federal system, where mandatory minimum sentences are required according to the count of conviction, a client faces limited opportunities to be sentenced below the mandatory minimum.  In general, in the state system, a person can only be sentenced below the mandatory minimum if the person provides substantial assistance.  In the federal system, a person with a minimal criminal record may also, in certain circumstances, be eligible for a “safety valve” sentence.

In the federal system, any drug trafficking offense – including cocaine cases – where guns are possessed in furtherance of the drug trafficking offense can result in additional charges called 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(c) charges that require the sentencing judge to impose at least a 5 year term of incarceration in addition to the sentence imposed for the underlying drug offense.  This consecutive sentence also means that the person is ineligible for certain other reductions, including RDAP drug treatment reductions.

Fünf Mythen des Geständnisses

In whatever language or country, a criminal defense lawyer’s advice will be the same: Shut Up, Halt die Klappe, Boucle-la, Тише, ¡Cállate!

It’s Christmas, and work is slow before the four or five murder trials I will have in 2021, so I’m reading up on the German criminal process and criminal law. (In law school I took comparative law and we learned a little bit about various European systems.  It turns out that the differences are not so great.)

Reading about other countries system at least helps you remember when you are in the sort of awful system that is the American judicial system that it doesn’t have to be this way.

But – throughout the world – defense lawyers – Strafverteidiger in German – have the same basic advice for clients: Do not speak to the police with out a lawyer present.

1. A Confession will Drop the Charges

While it may be appropriate to give a confession – Das Geständnis – a suspect (person, human being, the accused) often wants to give a confession at the beginning of the process in order to – they hope – convince the police to not issue an arrest warrant.

This never happens.  Police never drop charges simply because they now have an explanation for why the crime was committed.  In fact, police are far more likely to pursue charges because you’ve now made the crime easy to solve and another statistic that they can record in the “Win” column.

Police would only drop a charge in a case so minor and insignificant that it isn’t worth worrying about in the first place.

2. Early Confessions are Believable

Clients sometimes assume they should confess early in order to get credit for the confession they’ve given on the theory that an early confession will be more believable. While it’s true that a late or delayed confession can be harmful, an early confession can harm as well.  A confession given before the lawyer has sufficient information about all of the facts can be catastrophic in a case, closing off the opportunity for an even better result.

Early confessions are quite simply not necessarily more believable.  A person may only partially confess (which makes the confession unreliable) or the person may confess inadequately – not accept full moral culpability.  Or the person may be actually confused or mistaken about what happened because they didn’t see anything, and render an inadvertently false confession.

Finally, in their rush to confess, a client may be incomplete in his or her confession, resulting in confusion by the police that will later be blamed on the client.

3. Early Confessions Get Me More Credit

An early confession, some clients believe, will get them more credit.  Compared to what?

Once a person has confessed, in almost all cases – and notwithstanding Miranda – they will not be able to to take the confession back. At the very least, the police have heard the confession and will pursue the case vigorously to secure a guilty result.

As a consequence, if a person has confessed to a crime that the police could not have otherwise proved or investigated, the person may have gotten themselves more credit as compared to having not confessed in the prosecution but a lot more punishment as to the crime itself which may not have been properly investigated absent the confession.

Furthermore, police always want a confession now, “now” being the moment before they get the confession.  In other words, police would be nearly as happy – and happy enough – to get your confession after you talk to your lawyer as before your lawyer, understanding that they want to get the confession as quickly as possible.

Because the confession is almost always an unknown piece of information that police are desperate to get, a confession is almost always valuable.  At the very least, a confession – in the form of a guilty plea and allocution – avoids the necessity for a trial and will be rewarded in almost all cases.  But more generally, a confession done early enough in any case will – depending on the applicable law – create statutory avenues for reductions in sentence.

Early confessions are rarely important, and should rarely be done, and only done with an attorney’s advice.

4. I Need to Confess Now!

Whether and when to confess is always a fact-specific issue, and should be discussed with your lawyer.  But there are almost always – as noted above – multiple opportunities to confess.  It may – for technical reasons – be necessary to confess before a specific date or event, but even if that date passes, some benefit may be had from a late confession.

But early confessions can’t be retracted.  There is no imperative to confess now or now or even now.  Rather, there are various times where a confession may be valuable, and by talking to your attorney you can figure out whether and when you should confess.

5. The Best Confession

There is no “best confession.” A good confession, however, is truthful and consistent with all the other believable evidence, and comes at a point in the case where maximum benefit can be gained without losing other advantages.  Therefore, a good confession is a confession that results in the least possible punishment (given the other realistic outcomes).

Confessions cannot relieve the defendant of all responsibility, except in extremely minor crimes.  Confessions can only minimize the impact.  The fact that the person is required to confess is itself an imposition on that person that cannot be undone.

Life is never the same after the police coming knocking.  Don’t confess without a lawyer.

Raleigh Khat Lawyer

Khat PlantFederal and state law prohibits the distribution of khat – cathinone – a plant that is popular in parts of the Middle East and Africa for its stimulating properties.  Khat, known in Arabic as القات‎ al-qāt, is illegal under two parts of the federal drug schedules. There is no legal use for khat in the United States. Khat contains two central nervous system stimulants: cathinone–a Schedule I drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act–and cathine–a Schedule IV drug. Cathinone is the principal active stimulant; its levels are highest in fresh khat.

Khat is particularly popular in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen.  The flowering leaf is known as qat and gat in Yemen, qaat and jaad in Somalia, and chat in Ethiopia.

While khat is legal in certain countries, including countries in the Middle East and Africa, it is illegal in much of the rest of the world, either by general statutes or by specific laws that place it on drug schedules and prohibit its sale.

In both the federal system and in the state of North Carolina, the possession, sale, and possession with the intent to sell or deliver khat or cathinone is illegal, and can result in lengthy jail sentences.  In fact, khat is listed on the same schedule as opiates (schedule I) in North Carolina, meaning the it is subject to the highest penalties.

In addition, the possession of khat can trigger additional civil penalties, including the seizure of money (as part of civil asset forfeiture processes) or the assessment of state unauthorized substance taxes.

Cultural Issues Related to Khat

Khat has historically been an important part of Middle Eastern cultures, a kind of stimulant (similar in its use to caffeine) that is either chewed throughout the day or steeped in water to make a kind of tea. It is also an appetite suppressant.  In the 1950s and 1960s, many American women took amphetamines as appetite suppressants and mood enhancers.  In the 1970s and 1980s, with the ramping of the drug war and drug control in the United States, amphetamines became less popular and less widely consumed – although prescriptions for drugs such as adderall remain common. Khat has a similar cultural function, which is why people in the U.S. who are found with khat are often surprised at just how harshly the crime is punished.

Immigration Issues

The prosecution for khat possession or distribution can be particularly problematic for clients who are not United States citizens.  Since drug possession and distribution cases can result in removal or prohibition from entry into the United States, it is important that khat cases are treated with the same seriousness as other sorts of drug cases.




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