Criminal Defense Attorney Kellie Mannette

919-351-5586 (Chapel Hill)
919-972-8390 (Raleigh)

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Who Sits Where in a Courtroom and Why

Who sits where in a courtroom? The DA will sit at the table closest to the jury box. The Defendant will sit at the table furthest from the jury box. The defense attorney will sit at the same table, and on the side closest to the DA’s table.

Why does this all matter? Traditionally, in a courtroom, the party with the burden of proof sits closest to the jury. Here, the State has the burden to prove the Defendant is guilty, so they sit closest to the jury. The defense attorney sits between his or her client and the DA, creating a physical barrier.

I really love this tradition. I love standing between my client and the DA. It becomes a physical manifestation of the concept that the DA can only get to my client through me. I will fight for my client from beginning to end, and ultimately my client will only be convicted if the DA can make their case and prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. I will do everything in my power (within the bounds of the ethical rules) to prevent that from happening.

Standing between the accuser and the accused is a privilege. Making sure every right of my client has been honored and every opportunity to point out any holes in the State’s case has been taken. I love this job. I love standing there, arguing, protecting my client. I certainly do not always win. But I always give it everything I’ve got. And my client knows the State will only succeed if they can first get past me, the defender of the client.

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What should I wear to court?

This is a question I get a lot. The answer is “it depends.” Based on a variety of factors, your lawyer may want you to dress in a particular manner. But there are some basic don’ts (I have seen everything mentioned here at some point):

1. Don’t wear shorts, whether you are male or female. They always look out of place in a courtroom, and I have heard of judges who will not allow anyone wearing shorts in their courtroom.

2. Don’t wear articles of clothing with profanity on them. Along the same lines, any clothing with words or graphics that are sexual, related to drugs, or have any gang references should not be worn. If you get to court and realize you wore a shirt like this, turn it inside out.

3. Don’t let your pants sag. Almost all judges require pants to be pulled up around one’s waist when they are in court. Additionally, men must have their shirts tucked in.

4. If you are female, clothing should not be revealing. In general, this means it should not be tight, skirts should come to the knee, shirts should have sleeves, and you should be showing no cleavage whatsoever.

5. Do not wear a hat or head covering into the courtroom (unless it is a religious practice to do so). You will be ordered to remove it. Along the same lines, do not put your sunglasses on your head.

6. Do not wear slippers in the courtroom. Or anywhere outside of your house, for that matter. Same rule goes for pajama pants.

Frankly, what you wear in the courtroom should not matter. But it does. So be aware of what you are wearing, and what your clothes are saying about you when you walk into a courtroom. You do not necessarily need to wear a suit, and you should not have to go out and buy clothes specifically for court. But you should show respect to the court through your choice in clothing.

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The Cost of Representation

Of course, one of the first questions a potential client often asks is “how much?” This is a very important question, and will certainly be a factor in your decision on who to hire.

In North Carolina, lawyers are permitted to charge flat fees, and most criminal lawyers charge flat fees for their work. A flat fee is just what it sounds like- a certain dollar amount that encompasses the entire representation (or the portion of representation you are contracting with the lawyer for). This is in contrast to the system most are familiar with, where a lawyer obtains a “retain” from the client and then charges the client from this “retainer” (which typically remains the client’s money until earned by the lawyer) using an hourly rate for their services. If the lawyer runs out of the retainer money, he or she returns to the client for more money.

With a flat fee, you know from the beginning how much your representation will cost you. You pay the lawyer, typically all up front, and then the lawyer represents you.

So how does the pricing work? Many potential clients believe I have certain prices for certain charges- a DWI costs X, a Felony Larceny costs Y. That is not entirely how it works. I have general ranges of what I charge for certain types of cases, but a lot of how I quote a fee depends on your specific case. Essentially, I am assessing your case to estimate how many hours I will spend on it to determine an appropriate fee.

Occasionally, a potential client who has already spoken to another lawyer will ask me why my fee is less than or greater than another lawyer’s fee. Every lawyer has their own way of pricing the case. I can never answer why another lawyer priced the case they way they did.

Like everything else in life, the cost of representation is a factor you should consider in determining who to hire. But it should be balanced with other factors- the lawyer’s reputation, the lawyer’s responsiveness to your initial inquiry, the lawyer’s level of experience, and your personal comfort level with the lawyer.

If you are interested in the Law Office of Kellie Mannette, PLLC and would like to know how much it would cost to be represented by us, give us a call!

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What is Juvenile Court?

When children aged 6-15 are accused of committing crimes, they do not go to regular criminal court (at least not to start with). They are sent to juvenile court.

Part of the purpose of juvenile court is to protect the children whose cases are heard in that court. They do not get criminal records, even if they are convicted. Instead, they have a juvenile record that is kept from view of the general public (and future employers).

The language is different in juvenile court, too. Children are not charged, they are “petitioned.” They do not plead, they “admit.” They do not have trials, they have “adjudication hearings.” They do not get sentenced, they have “dispositional hearings.”

Let’s talk about how a child gets to juvenile court. When it is believed a child committed a criminal offense, a police officer fills out a “petition.” This is similar to a citation or warrant. Except it does not become a true charge immediately. People called court counselors then get the file. One of their roles is to evaluate these petitions. Typically, they send a letter to the child and the child’s parents, asking them to come in for a meeting. At the meeting, the court counselor asks a lot of questions about the child, the family and the incident.

The court counselor will use that information to assess the situation and determine how to proceed. Some charges are required to be filed in the court system, but most are left to the court counselor’s decision. The court counselor can file the petition (which puts the child in the juvenile court system), close the petition (meaning no further action will be taken) or divert the case.

A diversion plan or contract is a set of certain requirements the child and family must meet for the court counselor to later agree to close the case, saving the child from going through the court process. The requirements can vary drastically from contract to contract. It is common that they include participation in community programs, like teen court, and often include substance abuse or mental health assessments and treatment. If the child successfully completes the requirements, the court counselor will close the petition before the child ever sees the inside of the courtroom.

Children are not given lawyers unless/until they are sent to the juvenile court. However, if they want a lawyer at the intake meeting, they are allowed to have one. A lawyer at this stage may help the child have the best possible chance to avoid being brought into court.

If you have been contacted by the court counselor’s office about petitions they have received for your child, call an attorney who practices juvenile law. Kellie Mannette practices juvenile law in Orange, Chatham, Durham and Wake counties.

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No Defense? No Way!!!!

One very common comment I hear from family members of a person who has been convicted is “his/her lawyer was terrible, he/she did not even put on a defense!”

First, what does it mean to not put on a defense? The State has the burden of proving every element of every charge beyond reasonable doubt. Since it is their burden, they present their case first. The State calls witnesses to testify as to what happened. The defense attorney is able to cross examine them- this happens regardless of whether or not they “put on a defense.” After the State rests, the defense announces if they will “put on a defense.” This mean whether or not they will present evidence by calling witnesses to the stand.

Remember, the State has the burden, and it is a big one. Beyond a reasonable doubt. In NC, we define proof beyond a reasonable doubt to be proof that fully satisfies or entirely convinces you of the defendant’s guilt.

One reason a defense attorney may choose to not put on evidence it to keep the focus on the State’s failure to meet its burden. Sometimes, putting on evidence can cause jurors to start to weigh the defendant’s evidence against the State’s evidence. By choosing to not put on evidence, the focus can remain on the State and whether they met their burden.

Another common reason a defense attorney may choose not to put on evidence is what happens in closing arguments. If the defense does not put on evidence, they get to argue last to the jury. If they put on evidence, the State argues last. The ability to argue last, with no rebuttal from the other side, can be incredibly important to the outcome. A defense attorney has to weigh the benefit of any evidence they may have to present against the detriment of losing last argument.

Often, the defense attorney will not know at the beginning of the case whether or not a defense should be presented. Our analysis frequently depends on what happens during the State’s case. If the State’s case, once presented, seems weak, it can be very helpful to retain the last argument and therefore the attorney will advise the client to forgo presenting evidence. However, this is a very case by case determination, and no generalities can be made.

Also, there are certain defenses that almost always require the defense to put on evidence. A mental health defense (not guilty by reason of insanity or diminished capacity) will require expert testimony.

Every case is different, but there can be very good reasons for a defense attorney to forgo putting on evidence. A good lawyer will make this difficult decision with his or her client, ensuring the client fully understands the reasons for not putting on evidence and the rights the client is giving up when he or she makes this choice.

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Bullying Issues in School

More and more frequently, I am getting calls from parents who are frustrated with the response (or lack thereof) they get from the school after reporting incidents of bullying against their child.

By state law, each public school system is required to have a policy dealing with bullying. There must be a procedure for reporting bullying and a procedure for the school to follow in investigating the alleged acts of bullying.

If your child has been the victim of bullying or harassing behavior, first familiarize yourself with the school board’s policy on reporting and investigating bullying. Document your report to the school- even if you wish to make the report in person, follow up with a letter or email. Request a formal investigation under the policy.

The school should take steps to end the bullying. Follow up by asking what their plan is to end the bullying. If the plan seems reasonable, ensure it is working after a few days. If it is not, report the issues to the school, again in writing. Push for a better resolution. Being a strong advocate for your child can make a big difference.

If your child has been the victim of bullying, but the school is not taking the issue seriously or responding appropriately, you may want to consult with an education lawyer. It is important to deal with bullying or harassing issue appropriately. These situations can escalate if not dealt with appropriately. And your child deserves a safe environment in which to learn.

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Getting Your License Back After a DWI

There are a lot of nuances to the DMV regulations on becoming “eligible for reinstatement.” I want to talk about one common issue that can delay someone from getting their license back.

Most of the time, if you are convicted of a DWI, you lose your license for a year (you will always loose your license for at least a year, but most who are convicted fall under the one year category). You may or may not have obtained a limited driving privilege, allowing you to drive to and from work or school and the grocery store. But either way, at the end of that year, you are anxious to get your license back.

The most common reason a person is told they are not “eligible for reinstatement” when they go to the DMV to get their license back is due to the lack of “508” paperwork. This is the paperwork saying you have gotten a substance abuse assessment and complied with all recommended treatment.

See, the criminal court is also interested in your doing this. So much so that having completed the treatment prior to your conviction can help you get a better sentence. Often, your lawyer will advise you to complete the treatment prior to the court date. The substance abuse provider will tell you to call them when you have been convicted to give them the date of conviction. This is for the DMV’s “508” paperwork. They can not tell the DMV you have completed your treatment without this date.

However, clients tend to be overwhelmed that that time with all the things they need to do to satisfy the judgment of the court, and with the logistical issues associated with not being able to drive. So, when their year is up, they go to the DMV only to learn they are not “eligible for reinstatement.”

If this happens, call the substance abuse provider you used. See what they need (usually just the conviction date) to complete the “508” paperwork to send to the DMV. And whatever you do, DO NOT DRIVE until you are licensed to do so. Driving during a period of revocation for a DWI has very severe consequences.

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The Cost of Representation

Of course, one of the first questions a potential client often asks is “how much?” This is a very important question, and will certainly be a factor in your decision on who to hire.

In North Carolina, lawyers are permitted to charge flat fees, and most criminal lawyers charge flat fees for their work. A flat fee is just what it sounds like- a certain dollar amount that encompasses the entire representation (or the portion of representation you are contracting with the lawyer for). This is in contrast to the system most are familiar with, where a lawyer obtains a “retain” from the client and then charges the client from this “retainer” (which typically remains the client’s money until earned by the lawyer) using an hourly rate for their services. If the lawyer runs out of the retainer money, he or she returns to the client for more money.

With a flat fee, you know from the beginning how much your representation will cost you. You pay the lawyer, typically all up front, and then the lawyer represents you.

So how does the pricing work? Many potential clients believe I have certain prices for certain charges- a DWI costs X, a Felony Larceny costs Y. That is not entirely how it works. I have general ranges of what I charge for certain types of cases, but a lot of how I quote a fee depends on your specific case. Essentially, I am assessing your case to estimate how many hours I will spend on it to determine an appropriate fee.

Occasionally, a potential client who has already spoken to another lawyer will ask me why my fee is less than or greater than another lawyer’s fee. Every lawyer has their own way of pricing the case. I can never answer why another lawyer priced the case they way they did.

Like everything else in life, the cost of representation is a factor you should consider in determining who to hire. But it should be balanced with other factors- the lawyer’s reputation, the lawyer’s responsiveness to your initial inquiry, the lawyer’s level of experience, and your personal comfort level with the lawyer.

If you are interested in the Law Office of Kellie Mannette, PLLC and would like to know how much it would cost to be represented by us, give us a call!

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My Philosophy

My first job out of law school was a fellowship with an organization called the Fair Trial Initiative. I was the third lawyer assigned to death penalty trials. It was a great job. 90% of the time, I worked under the supervision and direction of highly experienced attorneys on the most serious cases. But the other 10% of the time, I handled misdemeanor and juvenile cases off the court appointment list in Durham. These cases were my own.

One of my very first cases involved an alleged probation violation. My client was facing the possibility of serving up to about 60 more days in jail if he was found to be in violation of his probation. I worked really hard on his case, and was ultimately able to show that he had not willfully violated his probation, allowing him to remain on probation rather than go to jail.

Leaving the courthouse, me and the client walked towards my office. As we were getting ready to part ways, the client said that I had always made him feel like his case was important to me, even though he figured I had much more important cases.

That was a defining moment in my career. It struck me, because it had never occurred to me that his case was not important. He was right, in a sense, that I had more important cases. In most of my cases, my clients were facing the possibility of death. But that did not make his case any less important. To the client, their case is the most important thing in their world. The effect even the “smallest” case can have on a person’s life is huge.

I decided right then and there that every client I would ever have needed to know I believe their case is important and is a priority. I try to do this in a variety of ways. I listen to every client. I return phone calls quickly. I take calls after hours. And I put as much time into a case as is necessary to get the best possible result.

Every time I hear a client say they appreciate that I made their case a priority, I smile. I know I am holding true to that promise I made to myself on that street corner as a young lawyer.

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Miranda Rights

They didn’t read my rights to me when they arrested me!

I often hear “the officer did not read me my rights when he arrested me. Can you get the case thrown out because of that?”

This question is riddled with inaccuracies, all perpetuated in the media.

First, what are your Miranda rights? I am sure you have heard these on TV a million times- essentially, these are the rights that you must be informed of in certain situations: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. They are called “Miranda rights” because they stem from a court case call Miranda v. Arizona.

On TV, every time a suspect is arrested, you hear the officer reading him (almost always a him on TV) his rights as the officer puts the suspect in the police car.

In real life, it is very rare that Miranda rights must be read to someone upon their arrest. Miranda rights must be given to a person who is:
1. In custody AND
2. Being questioned by officers

What does “in custody” mean? Well, that is a tricky question. The lawyer answer is “it depends.” Basically, it means a situation which rises to the level of the person being arrested.

What does being questioned mean? Again, it depends. Typically, anything an officer says or does that is likely to elicit a response (about the case) would be considered “questioning.”

Often, police have spoken to the suspect prior to their arrest in a manner that does not rise to the level of them being in custody, allowing the officers to not read them their rights. By the time the suspect is arrested, the officers have everything they need, and do not feel the need to question them further. Therefore, no Miranda rights are read to them.

If the officers do want to question the suspect further, they will need to read them their rights. But this is typically done right before the questioning commences, not as handcuffs are being put on the suspect.

Another problem with the question above? Typically, cases are not dismissed because of a violation of Miranda. If there is a Miranda violation found, the confession given by the suspect (and sometimes evidence gained as a result of the confession) are suppressed, meaning the DA can not use it as evidence. Many times, there is other evidence, allowing the DA to try the case on the non-confession evidence.

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Locations

Chapel Hill Office:
301 W. Barbee Chapel Rd.
Suite 309A
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
Phone: (919) 351-5586

Raleigh Office:
5 West Hargett Street
Suite 310
Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: (919) 972-8390

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