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White Collar Crimes: Hacking

News reports have been filled with stories of hacking and internet security breaches in recent months, from the leak of several celebrities’ nude photos after a massive-scale iCloud security breach to the hacking attack on Sony Pictures that unleashed a torrent of secret emails and messages from high-level executives.

Hacking is the newest, most pervasive form of theft.  A hacker can easily access financial records and personal information over the internet to take over bank accounts, assume a person’s identity or leak sensitive information.

Today, we can be online at any time, from almost any location with our phones, desktops, laptops or tablets, and more and more information can be stored and accessed from anywhere. While sharing systems that utilize online storage can be convenient time and money savers, these systems make it easier for non-authorized users to gain access. As more and more people rely on internet storage systems for personal information, hacking crimes reach increasingly new levels, which can lead to serious criminal penalties.

Computer and Internet Fraud

Any instance of breaking into a computer system, regardless of what your intention is, is considered hacking. Most often, hackers have the goal of accessing sensitive information or modifying existing information. Malicious hacking can be any instance of illegally gathering computer data or any information stored on a device.  However, increasingly seemingly innocuous conduct can be viewed as hacking as well.

North Carolina law classifies any instance of unlawful access into a computer with basic intentions—i.e., not with the intent of defrauding, obtaining information, or scheming against the owner of the information—as a Class 1 misdemeanor. If the hacking is done with malicious intent—scheming, defrauding, or stealing information or property valued at more than $1,000—the crime is considered a Class G felony. If the computer is government property, hacking crimes are bumped up to Class F felonies.

In Federal Court, unauthorized access to a computer or interception of an electronic communication can constitute a felony.  There are, however, Federal misdemeanors that cover this conduct as well.

Defending Against Hacking Charges

As hacking becomes more prevalent and more sophisticated, it has become more difficult to prove a person’s involvement without hard evidence. Hackers can use “zombie” networks and remote access to hide their tracks, and in order to make hacking charges stick, Raleigh white collar defense lawyers say law enforcement officials need to find proof that a suspect was using one of these devices or networks at the time the hacking took place.

Because of the types of information that are stored on computers and online, these crimes are taken very seriously. In the course of an investigation, suspects may find their computers and personal devices (phones, iPads, etc.) seized and searched, sometimes without due process on the part of the law enforcement officials. Investigators may be reviewing a suspect’s emails, messages and internet browsing history, which could turn into a violation of the suspect’s rights, especially if no formal charges have been filed.

If you are under investigation for a white collar crime, you need the help of a defense attorney immediately, even if the accusations against you are completely false. At Cheshire, Parker, Schneider and Bryan, we work with clients who have been accused of hacking or other white collar crimes. To get started on your case, contact one of our white collar defense lawyers in Raleigh today.


The Stakeholders Chief Justice Martin Left Out

In a Letter to the Editor in today’s Raleigh News & Observer, Joe Cheshire and I note a glaring omission from North Carolina Chief Justice Mark Martin’s recent State of the Judiciary address to the North Carolina General Assembly. “There comes a time when leadership demands subordinating political considerations to do what’s right.” Read more here.


College Drinking

In schools across America, college students have been known to spend their weekend nights at parties, sporting events and bars, celebrating the end of a week of courses and internships by sharing a few cold drinks with their friends. Alcohol is a time-honored tradition at many schools, and students enjoy the chance to let off steam and experience life on their own.

As students get older and move into off-campus housing, the popular spots often move farther away from the student’s residence.  And while many campuses offer shuttle services, such services may not always be an option for students hoping to get home after a night out.

Far too often, after a few drinks, students make the decision to drive home, rather than cab or Uber, and many get arrested or into an accident in so doing. What some students may not realize is that being charged with drunk driving at the college level can bring more consequences than simply the penalties outlined in the state’s laws, DWI lawyers in Raleigh say. Students should be aware that their universities and colleges may get involved and a DUI/DWI charge can have a lasting impact on their education and careers.

In addition to possible school sanctions, a DUI/DWI charge will follow you on your school record and may have to be disclosed on internship and job applications. Thus, a DWI could affect your options for graduate school and future employment.  It may even prevent you from obtaining scholarships or other forms of financial aid.


Commuter students do not have the luxury of walking from their dorm rooms or apartments to their classes, and they often rely on their own vehicles to get them to school every day. A DWI charge in North Carolina can lead to a license suspension in some situations and can cut down a commuter student’s options for transportation. In these cases, a judge may be willing to consider granting temporary limited driving privileges so the student does not have to miss classes.

Reckless Driving

In some cases, a student may be facing a combination of drunk driving charges and reckless driving charges, which could result in jail time. A student facing sentencing that would involve jail could be forced to miss classes and fall behind as a result. Reducing your charges or the sentence may help you keep on track for graduating on time and obtaining the job and future you have worked so hard for.

At the law offices of Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan, our Raleigh DUI lawyers represent student and adult drivers who have been charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A DUI/DWI charge does not have be the end of your education or career. To discuss your case and explore your defense options, contact one of our attorneys today.


FBI Director Acknowledges Racial Bias of Law Enforcement

James Comey, the Director of the FBI, spoke on the issue of biases of law enforcement (and all Americans) at Georgetown University recently.  His comments are refreshingly candid.  He began by explaining that law enforcement has a legacy of racism.  For example, the nickname “paddy wagon” comes from law enforcement’s bias against Irish immigrants “as drunks, ruffians, and criminals.”  Although “[t]he Irish had tough times,” he continued, “[their experience] little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans.”

Comey then noted that “[m]uch research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias.”  He then quoted the Broadway hit, Avenue Q:

Look around an you will find,
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.

His talk then turned to the specific affect of  such “unconscious bias” on law enforcement officers, saying, “something happens to people in law enforcement.  [They] develop different flavors of cynicism . . . , lazy mental shortcuts.  For example, [they come to believe that] criminal suspects routinely lie . . . , and the people [they] charge are overwhelmingly guilty.  That makes it easy for folks in law enforcement to assume that everybody is lying and that no suspect . . . could be innocent.  Easy, but wrong.”

As for race, he recognized that the same type of cynicism develops in police officers who “work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. . . .  After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced[by unconscious bias.]”

He then explicitly acknowledged the developed racial bias of officers working in urban areas, saying, “A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible . . . . The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up.  Two young white men on the other side of the street–even in the same clothes–do not.  The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys . . . , [a]nd that drives different behavior.”

After acknowledging what we’ve all known, he moves on to discuss how he sees law enforcement moving forward despite these “latent biases.”  He says that law enforcement “must . . . [try to know] what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking on the street and encountering law enforcement. . . .  We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism [i.e. the assumption that he is a liar and criminal] and approach him with respect and decency.”  This is obvious, but instructive.  “We must work . . . to really see each other.  Perhaps the reason we struggle as a nation is because we’ve come to see only what we represent, at face value, instead of who we are.  We[, law enforcement,] simply must see the people we serve,” he says.

He concluded,

We have spent the 150 years since Lincoln [ ] making great progress, but along the way treating a whole lot of people of color poorly.  And law enforcement was often part of that poor treatment.  That’s our inheritance as law enforcement and its not all in the distant past.  [Law enforcement] . . . must confront the biases that are inescapable parts of the human condition.  We must speak the truth about our shortcomings as law enforcement, and fight to be better.


FBI Director Comey’s speech was refreshing in its honesty.  Recognition is the first step toward reaching a solution.  And for too long, racial bias has been an off limits topic.  The statistics show that black men are discriminated against by the criminal justice system.  Now the top official at the FBI, our nation’s premier investigative agency, has recognized that the racial bias of police officers has been one of the causes of this discrimination.

We certainly have a long way to go.  But this is an important first step.




Joe Cheshire Named Top Lawyer in NC by SuperLawyers.com for Second Year in a Row

Joe Cheshire was named the top lawyer in North Carolina by SuperLawyers.com for the second year in a row.

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Super Lawyers is a ranking service that uses a multiphase selection process, which includes peer nominations and evaluations, as well as independent research, to select outstanding lawyers throughout the state.  Only five percent of all practicing attorneys are selected for inclusion in Super Laywers.  To read more about the SuperLawyer.com selection process, please click here.


Criminal Records and Professional Licenses

When you obtain your professional license — whether you are a lawyer, doctor or nurse, therapist, financial advisor or broker, real estate agent or anyone else whose job requires licensing — you open up additional doors in your career. A license can give you a jump on the competition in some cases; but in the alternative, you may be denied a job if you do not have a license. Earning your license is a lengthy process that typically involves a commitment of time and finances to complete, which increases the value of an employee who holds one. But if you are found guilty of a crime, or if you plead guilty to one, you may find your hard-earned license in jeopardy and your job at stake.

Crimes that Count

There are many criminal charges that can put a professional license in danger with a conviction or guilty plea, including white collar crimes like embezzlement, theft and fraud; drunk or drugged driving; and substance abuse or domestic violence. If you are a financial broker, for example, and you have been convicted of carrying out or taking part in fraudulent schemes, you may find that your license to work in your field will be revoked, sometimes permanently.

Even if your crime had nothing to do with the license you hold or the work you do, you could be at risk for penalties that cover not only fines and jail time, but your license and employment as well, professional license defense attorneys in Raleigh say. For example, a doctor who has pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge could have his license suspended by the North Carolina Medical Board based on the argument that his poor judgment in driving drunk could be extended to other areas of his professional career.  Thus, his or her job would be in jeopardy because he or she can no longer work.

Licensing Agencies

Typically, licensing agencies have their own rules about how to determine whether a criminal act should result in a suspension or revocation. Some agencies even have subscription services alert them when their licensees have been charged with criminal offenses.  Other agencies require licensees to report incidents to them, and the rules for when reporting is required differ by agency.

Once an agency hears about a potential complication with a licensed professional’s employment or criminal record, they will take steps to investigate the situation, often issuing a letter requiring a response by the licensee.  These responses can mean the difference between keeping your livelihood intact and losing (either temporarily or permanently) the professional license you worked so hard to obtain.  And a Raleigh professional license defense attorney can help you protect your license and your future.

Criminal convictions are often seen by licensing agencies as definitive indications of responsibility for the underlying conduct.  So licensed professionals who are being investigated or have been charged must be aware of the additional negative potential repercussions of criminal convictions and evaluate their options accordingly.

Protect Yourself

Losing your professional license can mean losing your current job, as well as future prospective employment opportunities in the same or similar fields. If you have been charged with a crime that may threaten your professional license, contact an attorney at Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan immediately. Our Raleigh professional license defense lawyers will work with our Raleigh criminal defense lawyers to help you retain your license and your career.


Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

In America, “innocent until proven guilty” is a hallmark of our justice system. However, criminal defense lawyers in Raleigh and elsewhere throughout the state know that the “presumption of innocence” is not always how it plays out. When people are accused of committing a crime, or even investigated in connection with a crime, their character and reputation often hang in the balance, especially when the crime carries highly negative connotations, such as rape, sexual assault, or child abuse.

Rumors and false assumptions can cause permanent damage in their personal lives and professional careers. A quick Google search can bring up connections to criminal investigations that could be misleading, especially if the accused was later cleared of wrongdoing, and continue to haunt that person’s future. A simple accusation or investigation can cause lifelong grief for the accused and acquitted.

While everyone charged with a serious crime is entitled to a jury of one’s peers, juries are made up of humans, who can easily make mistakes. So can witnesses, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and judges. Our justice system is not perfect, and one mistake can ruin a person’s life. The news is filled with stories of people being released from prison after serving lengthy sentences for crimes they did not commit. But even if they’re later exonerated, the damage has been done. There is no way to undo years spent in prison or erase the association of your face with guilt for the crime.

Hire a Lawyer

Many people believe that hiring a lawyer is a sign of guilt, and that innocent people have no need for legal representation simply because they are innocent. But if you have been charged with a crime, even a crime you did not commit, you need someone who knows the system, knows your rights, and knows the law to help you get through this difficult time.

Criminal investigators want to get at the truth, but they are used to dealing with criminals who lie to keep themselves out of trouble. Because of this, investigators and interrogators often ask confusing or leading questions and use tactics designed to obtain a confession. If you are innocent, you may not realize that the answers you provide in an investigation can hurt you, and you may wind up inadvertently accepting guilt for a crime you had nothing to do with. In order to protect yourself and prepare your best defense, you need the help of an experienced attorney.

At Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan, our federal criminal defense attorneys in Raleigh want to help you take full advantage of your right to the presumption of innocence. To discuss your case, contact our firm today for more information and consultation.


Drug Crimes

We’ve all heard about “street” drug crimes — selling illegal drugs on street corners, passing off more dangerous, enhanced drugs as regular-variety narcotics, etc. — but an increasing number of people are getting caught with prescription drugs and charged with serious crimes as a result. Often, these people are not involved in the day-to-day trafficking of “street” drugs, but are caught in addictions or drug-sharing schemes and have not made the connection between their prescription drug actions and criminal offenses.  For those individuals, the charges can be a complete shock.

Sharing Prescription Drugs

With the rising costs of healthcare and all it takes to visit the doctor and obtain a prescription, it is understandable that leftover prescription pills may be repurposed — shared with a friend or relative or used to treat another ailment. Many see no difference between that and providing an aspirin to a co-worker with a headache; however, Percocet and Vicodin are stronger than aspirin and can only be used with a valid prescription. And if you accept money for your extra amount of prescription drugs, you can rack up more criminal charges, drug crime lawyers in Raleigh say.

Prescription Drug Addictions

In other cases, instead of sharing their prescription drugs, people will become addicted to them. When someone in serious pain is prescribed pain pills, it can be hard to stop taking them. The absence of pain can feel like a miracle, especially if you have been in constant pain before. And when you keep taking pain medication, you often lose the ability to make good judgment calls. Sometimes, you may not even realize that you are addicted to the medication, and you may go to extreme lengths to get more when your prescription runs out. Stealing or writing false prescriptions can signal a serious addiction that needs to be treated, and it can land you in a lot of trouble with the law.

Drug Crimes in Raleigh

In North Carolina, the criminal justice system often works only to punish people for their crimes, not to provide rehabilitation or counseling for those addicted to drugs, including prescription medications. In prescription drug cases, the defendants often have no prior criminal record and have no idea how they ended up being charged with criminal acts. These defendants want to get help, get clean, and keep their criminal records clean. They have no desire to continue to sell or abuse drugs, but they may be hindered professionally and personally with a criminal drug charge on their permanent records.

At Cheshire, Parker, Schneider, and Bryan, our drug crimes lawyers defend people charged with or under investigation for abusing, selling, or sharing prescription drugs. To get started on your defense and rehabilitation, contact one of our attorneys today.


Raleigh DWI Lawyer Collin Cook Identified as One of the Top DWI Attorneys in North Carolina by the National Advocacy for DUI Defense (NAFDD)

Raleigh DWI lawyer Collin Cook recently became a member of the National Advocacy for DUI Defense (NAFDD), LLC, an organization that awards the nation’s best private Driving Under the Influence (DUI) attorneys.

NAFDD identifies the top criminal defense attorneys in each state based upon their experience, reputation, and achievements, among other factors. Those who are selected spend a significant portion of their practice representing individuals accused of DUI offenses (sometimes called DWI, DWII, OUI, OVI, OWI or OUII).

DWI law is a highly specialized field. Effective Raleigh DWI lawyers navigate through many complex legal issues, including the lawfulness of stops, detentions, and arrests; the reliability of field sobriety tests; the accuracy of breath and blood testing methods, including retrograde extrapolations; and driver license ramifications and administrative hearings. The attorneys selected by NAFDD have distinguished themselves by demonstrating particularized knowledge, skill, experience, and expertise in each of these areas, among others.

NAFDD’s selection criteria are driven by a number of considerations. To meet minimum eligibility requirements, an attorney (1) must be licensed and in good standing with his or her state bar organization, (2) must be in private practice, (3) has to have practiced DWI law for at least seven years, and (4) must devote a significant portion of his or her practice to DWI defense. Additional factors include:

For more information about the National Advocacy for DUI Defense (NAFDD) and specific selection criteria for top DUI attorneys, visit www.nafdd.org.

The National Advocacy for DUI Defense understands that there is no easy way to separate an accomplished Raleigh DWI lawyer from the less experienced. By recognizing the best DWI lawyers in each state and across the nation, NAFDD validates professional excellence in the legal community. Its statewide selections serve as a valuable resource for clients looking for experienced and competent Raleigh DWI lawyers.


Outgoing US Attorney General Reflects on Justice System

The question is, are we prepared to [reform] to live up to who we say we are as a nation? . . .

It’s the morally right thing to do, and ultimately it saves us money in the long run.

Eric Holder, the outgoing United States Attorney General, recently gave an interview to members of The Marshall Project, an organization devoted to journalism about the failures of the American justice system.  Holder highlighted successes, failures, and hopes for the future.

His comments on mass incarceration are illuminating.

We have 5 percent of the world’s population, [and] 25 percent of the people in incarceration. That’s not something that we can sustain. One third of the budget at the Justice Department now goes to the Bureau of Prisons, and if you look out to 2020, it goes up to 40, 45 percent or so. Which squeezes out the other things we want to do with regard to other areas of crime that we want to focus on, other initiatives that we want to support.

And then if you look at the impact that mass incarceration has . . . , it leads to broken families, it leads to social dysfunction, it tends to breed more crime. So – look, I’m a prosecutor first and foremost, and as a judge I put people in jail for extended periods of time when that was appropriate. Smart on Crime says if you commit violent crimes you should go to jail, and go to jail for extended periods of time. For people who are engaged in non-violent crimes – any crimes, for that matter – we are looking for sentences that are proportionate to the conduct that you engaged in.

Holder is optimistic that a version of the Smarter Sentencing Act will become law in the next Congress.  That law proposes a number of changes to the federal criminal justice system, including, among other things:

  1. expanding the applicability of a “Safety Valve” provision (18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)), which overrides the mandatory minimum sentence in drug offenses for a small subset of defendants (low-level, first offenders in non-violent offense who cooperated with law enforcement);
  2. reducing the sentences of prisoners sentenced for crack-cocaine offenses before August 2010 to align with current (less harsh) sentences for such offenses;
  3. reducing mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses;
  4. directing U.S. Sentencing Commission to formulate lower recommended sentences so that the federal prison population will not exceed capacity;
  5. adding mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses of aggravated sexual abuse and increasing penalties for certain domestic violence offenses; and
  6. adding mandatory minimum sentences for terrorism offenses.

According to Holder, “If this is done correctly you not only save money, you keep the American people safe by cutting down on the recidivism rate.”

Holder then commented on the death penalty, saying that

I disagree . . . that we have never put to death an innocent person. It’s one of the reasons why I personally am opposed to the death penalty. We have the greatest judicial system in the world, but at the end of the day it’s made up of men and women making decisions, tough decisions. Men and women who are dedicated, but dedicated men and women can make mistakes. And I find it hard to believe that in our history that has not happened.

I think at some point, we will find a person who was put to death and who should not have been, who was not guilty of a crime.


These comments are enlightening, as Holder is not only the top federal prosecutor in the United States, but he was also a line-prosecutor and a judge.  He has prosecuted people and companies, and has likely sentenced thousands of people to hundreds of thousands of years in prison in total.  He then oversaw the entire United States justice system.  And from that perch, he apparently gained a broad perspective of the ills of our system and a strong desire to reform it.

As is true throughout the nation, Raleigh federal criminal defense attorneys should be aware of Holder’s policy positions, as they may be useful in negotiating current cases to achieve results that are in line with where our system is (hopefully) headed.  With the top federal prosecutor lamenting long sentences for non-violent crimes, as well as the corresponding financial burden such sentences place on our country, Raleigh drug crime lawyers and Raleigh white collar defense lawyers should seek to weave these arguments into their discussions with prosecutors and presentations to judges.

It is also refreshing to hear a career prosecutor and judge being realistic about the death penalty and the likelihood that our system has erred in its use.  This recognition–that our government has killed innocent citizens–is the first step toward the abolition of the death penalty, since one government-sponsored killing of an innocent citizen should be enough to dispense with the punishment altogether.


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