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.

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.


Violence in America

North Carolina Crime StatisticsIn 2018, Austria – a country of roughly 9 million people and 32,000 square miles with a diverse population, especially around its capital of Vienna – recorded 70 homicides, a increase of more than 20 percent over the previous year.  That is a rate of less than 1 homicide per 100,000 people.

By contrast, North Carolina, a state of just over 10 million people and 54,000 square miles with a diverse population – recorded just over 630 murders.  That is a rate of more than 6 homicides per 100,000 people, or more than 600 percent greater than Austria’s homicide rate.

In the past 10 years, I have personally handled more murder cases than the best criminal defense lawyers in Vienna.  That isn’t to my credit.  That’s to this country’s shame that violence is so pervasive that people – fundamentally no different than the people who live in Austria – engage in a level of violence in North Carolina and across the United States that is appalling.


James Fields of Maumee Accused of Killing in Charlottesville

Twenty-old James Alex Fields Jr. (born April 26, 1997) is a resident of Maumee, Ohio? and registered Republican is accused of driving his gray 2010 Dodge Challenger? that ran into protesters at the “Unite the Right”? rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.?

A former active duty soldier in the United States Army, Fields apparently attended the rally that took place at noon on Saturday not far from the University of Virginia campus. The rally was self described as “pro-white” by its organizer, Jason Kessler, who, along with lawyers from the ACLU and the Rutherford Institute, obtained an injunction from a federal court earlier this week that would’ve moved the rally from its scheduled location to a different site.

A Pre-rally march took place Friday night, where many people headed to protest the rally. Violence broke out amongst AntiFa members and the alt-right members of the march.

On the day of the rally, just minutes after its start, at noon, the police called the protest an unlawful gathering and attempted to disburse the white nationalists and counter protesters from a central location. [5]?

Fields, reportedly the driver of the vehicle, was arrested.

An unidentified 32-year-old woman died as a result of the incident. Her death is being investigated as a homicide.

Fields is being held with no bond.

The Mythical Wet Reckless

Few things annoy me more than people being fed a bunch of nonsense when they are seeking serious legal advice about a criminal charge.

DWIs seem to take the cake when it comes to nonsense. Typically, someone is charged with a DWI, and immediately starts asking friends and family, or searching on the web for information about a drunk driving charge.

Usually the nonsense comes in the form of what they should or shouldn’t have done the night of the arrest. That advice, while usually incorrect, is harmless. The night is over; the deed done.

Other nonsense comes from websites. Another Raleigh law firm posts on its website the claim that Wet Recklesses are available in North Carolina, although does admit “not in all places.”

(A wet reckless is a reduction from a DWI to a careless and reckless with alcohol conditions.)

That’s a strange way of putting the fact that wet recklesses are simply put not available in Wake County, or anywhere in the Research Triangle.

If you encounter a lawyer who is vague about whether you can get a wet reckless in Wake County, you are talking to someone who merely wants to take your money for crappy legal representation.

The Sausage Being Made: Trial-less Criminal Justice

Mandatory minimums have all sorts of bad consequences. They take power (and discretion) away from a judge and give it to a prosecutor. As in the case where they can stack creating outrageous mandatory minimum sentences that effectively strip the trial option away from the defendant.

And that's the key. The Government almost always wants to avoid trial. Prosecutors want to extract the highest possible plea, while at the same time avoiding the hassle and cost of a trial. That's because the government's case load can only be effectively managed by pleas.

Mandatory minimums make trials much more rare, especially in a “guns and drugs” district like the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Where in the 1980s – before the advent of mandatory minimums – judges might try 30 cases each year, by 2014, that number had been reduced to the single digits.

Now, that might be cause for celebration: so many cases efficiently decided and ajudged using barely any court time. A 20-minute arraignment followed by a 30 minute sentencing hearing five months later. Some use of the United States Probation Office in between. For the government, a minimum use of prosecutor time.

For the court system, a minimal use of either Federal Public Defender or Criminal Justice Act appointed lawyer time – and expense.

Wham-bam. What's not to like?

Let me count the problems:

One: We are raising a generation of federal criminal defense lawyers who have barely tried any cases. Theyu are mitigation lawyers. And while mitigation is great, important, valuable, etc., it is not the same thing as participating in the cruciable that is a jury trial.

A criminal defense lawyer who does not try case does not, by definition, effectively represent his client. That lawyer cannot offer the client an effective alternative to plea. Every case needs to start with the assumption that it is going to trial. In many cases, it becomes obvious that the case is not likely to go to trial. That's just a fact about the circumstances behind cases.

But a lawyer must be able to offer trial as an alternative; otherwise a lawyer is not offering his client a true option.

Two: With so few cases being tried, democracy suffers. How can a judge – or the public – really know about what's going on behind the scenes, when so many plea deals are the result of a defendant's decision to plead guilty rather than face a prosecutor's wrath of tacking on additional mandatory minimums in a superseding indictment.

A judge at the very least – and the public generally – needs to know how the sausage is made. Right now, the sausage in many federal courts is made with a lot of nails and bricks that the judge never hears about. In addition to raising a generation of trial-less attorneys, we are raising a generation of trial-less judges who do not know truly what is going on in their courtrooms.

Three: Law enforcement suffers. A democracy holds police officers' feet to the fire by a defense lawyer vigorously cross-examining a police officer about his or her actions.

Trials help cops become better cops: more effective in their investigations, more diligent in their conduct, and more respectful of defendants and the public.

Without trials, cops never truly learn how to police effectively in a democracy.


NC Expungements: The Benefits of Clearing Your Criminal Record

Raleigh expungement lawyerIf you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in North Carolina, you have probably already experienced some of the impacts that a criminal charge and conviction can have on your life. North Carolina has expungement laws that allow you to clear your criminal record, but they are limited in what they can and can’t accomplish. Nonetheless, any opportunity to clear your record is one that should be take, as this can have multiple positive effects on your life.

What a Conviction Does to You:

  1. It can prevent you from getting a good job;
  2. It can keep you from being allowed to carry a firearm;
  3. It can stop you from getting into certain schools and getting federal financial aid;
  4. It can keep you from adopting a child;
  5. It can be a source of embarrassment amongst family and friends.

Being granted an expungement can alleviate or eliminate all of the negative items listed above. As mentioned before, the expungement law is very specific. Here are the most important details you need to know:

  • You can only get one expungement in your lifetime in North Carolina.
  • Most expungements are reserved for first time offenders
  • If you have completed a deferral or diversion program (sometimes called a first offender’s program) and you haven’t received an expungement previously, you can pay $175 to file an expungement to have your record cleared.
  • If you were convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor or felony and you completed your sentence more than 15 years ago, you are eligible to file for an expungement with a $175 fee to the court.
    • Crimes with an element of assault cannot be expunged
    • Only Class H and I felonies and Class 1,2, and 3 misdemeanors can be expunged
    • Crimes involving methamphetamines or heroin cannot be expunged
    • Any crime with an element of selling or delivering cocaine cannot be expunged

There is a but more fine print to the expungement law, but those are the broad brushstrokes. If you at least meet the criteria listed above, then it is well worth investigating if you are fully eligible to have your record cleared. To take the next steps in the process, call a Raleigh expungement lawyer for a free consultation.

Lawyer Shopping: How to Find a Raleigh Criminal Defense Attorney

Raleigh criminal defense attorneyMost people don’t have a criminal defense attorney on speed dial, and it’s the type of attorney you never thought you would need. However, if you’ve been charged with a crime in North Carolina, you are in need of representation now. Whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, a criminal conviction can have long and far reaching impact on your life. But if you’ve never had to search for an attorney before, how do you go about finding one and how do you know you’re hiring the right person for the job?

  1. Make sure the attorney you hire actually practices criminal law. Each area of the law is very different. Lawyers are similar to doctors in that they have different specialties or focus areas. While there are some general practitioners, you want a specialist. You wouldn’t go to a heart doctor if you broke your leg, so why would you to go a real estate attorney for a criminal matter? You want to be careful of lawyers who practice too many different areas of the law because there’s a possibility that he could know a little about all those areas but not have the in-depth knowledge you need about your particular issue.
  2. Experience with your type of case. You want to find someone that has many cases under his belt for the exact thing you’ve been charged with. Even better, if the lawyer has seen fact patterns similar to yours in previous cases, he will be better equipped to handle your case. Every case is different. Many criminal attorneys have handled hundreds of DWI cases, but have they handled one like yours?
  3. Reputation. What is the lawyer’s reputation in the community? In the internet age, this is easy to find out. Do they have reviews on Google, Avvo, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, etc.? It’s not hard to do research on attorneys to learn what other people are saying about them and if they’ve ever been disciplined by the bar association.
  4. Make sure you’re comfortable. Your attorney is not there to be your friend. He is there to be a bulldog and fight your case. You need to feel confident that your attorney is competent, experienced, and that he will fight for you. If you get a bad feeling when talking to a prospective attorney, go with your gut. Most cases take time to resolve, so this is a relationship that you’ll be in for many months. You need to make sure you’re comfortable talking to your attorney, asking questions, and that he’s doing what you need him to do.
  5. Know who’s handling your case. Most criminal defense firms are small – just one or two attorneys. But some are larger or are a division of a large firm that does multiple types of law. Make sure that when you hire a firm, you know which attorney will be handling your case. The last thing you want is to hire a firm thinking your getting the big gun that has a lot of experience only to show up to court with a junior attorney that’s still wet behind the ears.
  6. Don’t go cheap. The saying, “You get what you pay for” is true even for attorneys. If you can’t afford to hire a GOOD attorney, ask for a public defender. Cheap attorneys are usually cheap for a reason, they don’t have a lot of demand for their services and they are scrambling to make ends meet. A cheap attorney that’s also a bad attorney can often do more harm than good. Many people make the mistake of thinking that any attorney is better than no attorney, or better than a public defender, but this is usually not the case. While most people aren’t expecting to have to shell out money for a criminal lawyer, you need to think of it as an investment in your future. I can’t tell you the number of cases that I’ve inherited from bad attorneys that someone hired because that attorney was the cheapest, and now the case is messed up and it’s costing the client twice as much for me to fix it as it would have cost had they originally hired me. In the long run, cheap usually isn’t cheapest when you take everything into consideration.

This is a big decision. Do your homework and make the best choice possibly by doing your research.

NC Felonies: What Is A Felony in North Carolina?

Raleigh Felony Lawyer A felony in North Carolina is a serious charge. In the past, a felony was defined as a crime for which you could serve more than one year in prison as a punishment for the crime, but that has since changed. Today, the North Carolina Legislature determines what crimes are classified as felonies. Some crimes can be classified as either felonies or misdemeanors, such as larceny, , assault, and some drug possession charges, while other crimes, usually violent in nature can only be felonies.

Felonies in North Carolina include sex offenses such as rape and indecent liberties with a minor, robbery, kidnapping, murder, certain violent assaults, larceny, and certain drug crimes like possession, possession with intent to sell and deliver (PWISD), manufacturing, distribution, sale, or trafficking. One issue to be concerned about with these types of felonies is that enhanced sentencing comes into play, where repeat offenses can be punished more harshly. North Carolina has a version of a three strikes law, call a habitual offender that significantly increases penalties for felony convictions.

Felonies have additional consequences beyond prison or probation. If you are convicted of a felony, you may lose citizenship rights such as the loss of the right to vote and to hold public office. If you are not a US citizen and are on a green card or visa, a felony conviction can result in the denial of green card or visa renewal and denial of a citizenship request. In addition, convicted felons lose the right to carry a firearm.

The majority of felonies begin in district court, which is the lower level of two courts in the North Carolina state court system. Many are resolved in district court, but some are escalated to superior court. Felonies handled in district court are dealt with by dismissal, plea agreement, drug diversion program or deferral agreement. If none of these agreements can be reached in district court, the case is escalated to superior court. In superior court, a district attorney has the option to again revisit the options of dismissal, deferral, diversion or plea, but if this cannot be agreed upon, then the case will go to a jury trial. A jury trial in superior court can take as long as two years to be scheduled.

Jury trials are complex in that there are multiple phases: jury selection, the actual trial, and if found guilty, the sentencing phase. It is important if you are facing felony charges to find a criminal defense lawyer that has both felony and trial experience and is unafraid to go to trial. Some attorneys are less comfortable in a trial setting and would prefer to negotiate a plea offer, but you should seek the counsel of a criminal lawyer who can analyze the facts in your case, determine what defense strategy would be in your best interests, and if that means having a trial, taking your case to trial.

The Debut of The Chetson Firm’s DWI Corner

Raleigh DWI LawyerDriving While Impaired, or DWI, is one of the most common charges in North Carolina. In Wake County alone, there are sometimes between 20-30 DWI arrests in each 24 hour period. We don’t think of people charged with DWI as hardened criminals. Most of our clients are hard working professionals that haven’t been in trouble before and didn’t realize how much they’d had to drink and thought they were fine to drive. Until they blew into a breathalyzer (which it is usually better not to do, by the way).

For someone that’s never been in trouble with the law and has never had to deal with the court system, this can be a scary and overwhelming experience. You need answers and resources and someone that can help you through the process. To address these need, The Chetson Firm is unveiling it’s DWI Corner. This is a section of our website devoted solely to DWIs, with answers to frequently asked questions, sentencing information, and an overview of the court process. There’s even a free case evaluation form where people charged with a DWI can input all of the information surrounding their DWI stop and have an attorney analyze that information and get back in touch to discuss the case.

For some, a DWI may seem like the end of the world. The first 10 days when you are unable to drive are the worst, and then it gets better. The sooner you are able to get a DWI lawyer on board to handle your case, the better off you will be. That criminal defense attorney will be able to help you get a limited driving privilege, will connect you to the resources you’ll need for your case, and will defend your rights in court. Seek out the best DWI attorney you can find that has experience trying hundreds of DWI cases in both bench and jury trials. Get someone on your side that can answer your questions, guide you through the process, and set your mind at ease.



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