NOTEWORTHY CASES | criminal defense

2016 |
United States v. N.R.

Matthew Pruden successfully overturned the conviction of his client whose original trial lawyer slept during portions of his trial. In a case presenting an issue of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held “that a defendant is deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when counsel sleeps during a substantial portion of the defendant’s trial.” The court vacated N.R.’s conviction and sentence, which had been 360 months in prison. Click here and here for media coverage about the case.

 
2015 |
United States v. Petraeus

On April 23, 2015, General David Petraeus, former military commander in the U.S. Army and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was sentenced to probation for the unauthorized removal and retention of classified information, a misdemeanor. Jake Sussman was a member of General David Petraeus’ defense team. Click here for media coverage of the case.

 
2015 |
State v. J. R.

Noell Tin persuaded a Superior Court judge to dismiss all charges against J. R., including two counts of attempted first degree murder, due to J.R.’s severe mental illness which rendered him unable to stand trial for over seven years.

 
2014 |
State v. M.S.

Noell Tin successfully challenged the City of Charlotte’s “dancehall” ordinance as being unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, resulting in the dismissal of criminal charges against M.S. Noell’s client was arrested and charged with operating a dancehall without a permit after he hosted a Sweet 16 birthday party. Under the city ordinance, every establishment that (1) has music; (2) has space available for dancing or permits dancing to occur (whether dancing actually takes place or not); and (3) allows admission by payment of a direct or indirect charge, would need a permit. At trial, Noell showed that the city ordinance’s definition of “dancehall” was too vague, and broad enough to include museums, exercise facilities, movie theaters, yoga studios and indoor playgrounds. Noell also established that the ordinance was being enforced in a discriminatory manner — such that nearly 87% of those persons charged with operating a “dancehall” without a permit by the arresting officer involved were African-American, and that 93% of those charged were a racial minority.

 
2014 |
United States v. M.M.

Matt Pruden represented a client who was seeking post-conviction relief after being sentenced to life in prison in 1998 for a federal drug conspiracy conviction. Mr. Pruden convinced the government to file a Rule 35 motion to reduce his client’s sentence. The government sought to reduce the sentence from life to 30 years. Following a contested re-sentencing hearing, however, the court reduced the client’s sentence to time-served and he was ordered to be released from federal prison.

 
2013 |
State v. S.H.

Noell Tin and Sarah Bennett secured not guilty verdicts in Rutherford County on behalf of their client, a former public works director for the Town of Forest City who was charged with 12 felony counts of embezzlement from the town.

 
2012 |
United States v. R.M.

Matt Pruden represented a client charged in a federal indictment alleging conspiracy to commit fraud and counterfeiting. After negotiations with the government, the client was allowed to enter into a pretrial diversion program and the case was dismissed.

 
2012 |
State v. Clontz

Casi Clontz was 15-years-old in 1993 when she and her mother were charged with hiring another teenager to kill Casi’s abusive step-father. The State charged both Casi and her mother with First Degree Murder, cut a deal with the shooter, and tried both mom and daughter before a death-qualified jury in Stanly County. Both were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The shooter was released from prison in 2009.

Jake Sussman was appointed by North Carolina’s Indigent Defense Services to investigate whether recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court about sentencing teenagers to life imprisonment provided an avenue for relief for Casi. After extensive investigation, which included hiring a psychologist and legal expert, Sussman filed a Motion for Appropriate Relief in Stanly County. Following a hearing on December 19, 2012, the Honorable Theodore Royster ordered Casi’s immediate release. At the time of her release, Casi had spent 18 years in North Carolina’s Department of Corrections, almost all of it separated from her mother.

 
2012 |
Occupy Charlotte

Jake Sussman provided pro bono representation for individuals arrested by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department in January 2012 following the enforcement of the controversial “anti-camping” ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council in response to the Occupy Charlotte movement. Sussman recruited local law students to help construct legal defenses for each defendant, and ultimately secured four acquittals in two separate trials.

 
2011 |
United States v. S.L.

Missy Owen represented S.L., a defendant in a 50-million-dollar Ponzi scheme. After aggressive negotiations with the government that successfully limited the client’s exposure to prison, Owen was able to secure a six-month term of imprisonment.

 
2011 |
United States v. J.W.

Matthew Pruden and Noell Tin represented a doctor during a multi-year investigation by the federal government into potential charges of Medicaid fraud. After the firm demonstrated that its client lacked criminal intent with respect to any unauthorized charges made by his office staff, the government declined to criminally prosecute.

 
2011 |
State v. Kagonyera

Noell Tin represented Kenneth Kagonyera in a successful effort to prove that Kagonyera was innocent of a murder for which he had been imprisoned for over a decade. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, which investigates and evaluates post-conviction claims of factual innocence, had recommended a hearing for Kagonyera and his co-defendant Robert Wilcoxson after both men had served close to 11 years for the murder. The matter was tried before a 3-judge-panel in Buncombe County Superior Court. Evidence included testimony that DNA evidence, which had been withheld from prior defense counsel, implicated another individual in the murder. The panel also heard testimony that another man had confessed to the murder and that this confession had not been disclosed by the State. On September 22, 2011, the 3-judge-panel found Kagonyera and Wilcoxson, who was represented by Chris Fialko of Rudolf Widenhouse & Fialko, innocent of the murder and ordered that they be set free. The case received extensive media attention and was featured in USA Today, The News & Observer, and the Asheville-Citizen Times

 
2011 |
State v. B.D

Jake Sussman represented a public school teacher charged in Mecklenburg County with criminal assault against a student. Aggressive pre-trial investigation aided a successful not guilty verdict at trial. The charge was later expunged from the client’s record.

 
2010 |
State v. C.H.

Matt Pruden represented a client charged with possessing crack cocaine. Because of his prior convictions, the client faced a significantly enhanced sentence as an habitual felon. Mr. Pruden moved to suppress the evidence that would be used at trial, arguing that law enforcement conducted an illegal stop and search. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, and the case was dismissed.

 
2010 |
State v. Elabanjo

Katy Parker successfully challenged North Carolina’s profanity statute on behalf of Samantha Elabanjo, who was arrested after loudly referring to a police officer as an “[a–hole].” Katy established that the profanity statute was unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 
2010 |
State v. T.B.

Matthew Pruden secured an acquittal at trial of his client, a public school employee, against a charge of criminal neglect of a disabled student.

 
2009 |
United States v. T.K.

As co-counsel with legendary attorney James E. Ferguson, II, Jake Sussman represented an attorney who was charged in federal court with multiple counts of obstruction of justice and witness tampering. The defense successfully severed the six charges into three separate trials, as well as limited what evidence the prosecution would be able to use at trial. On the eve of jury selection in the first trial, the defense was able to successfully resolve the entire case and all charges were ultimately dismissed. Sussman continued representing T.K. in proceedings before the North Carolina State Bar.

 
2009 |
United States v. D.D.

Noell Tin and Matt Pruden represented a defendant convicted of federal firearms offenses. Over the government’s objection, they successfully argued that several of the felony convictions should be reduced to misdemeanor convictions. The court then reduced all but one conviction to misdemeanors. The government asked the court to sentence the defendant to 57 months in prison on the remaining felony conviction. After a contested sentencing hearing, the court sentenced the defendant to one year of probation.

 
2009 |
State v. C.G.

Matthew Pruden secured an acquittal of his client, a public school employee, against a charge of sexual battery of a student.

 
2008 |
State of Georgia v. Nichols

Brian Nichols was being tried for the rape of his former girlfriend on March 11, 2005 in the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, Georgia, when he escaped from custody. He shot and killed the judge presiding over his trial, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy, and, later that night, a federal law enforcement agent. After a large-scale manhunt, Nichols was captured and taken into custody 26 hours after his escape. He was charged with a 54-count indictment and faced multiple capital charges. Jake Sussman was appointed along with attorney Henderson Hill to represent Nichols. The pre-trial litigation involved hundreds of motions, scores of hearings, and multiple trips to the Georgia Supreme Court on issues related to the case. Media attention was extensive, and the case was closely followed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and featured in the New York Times and the New Yorker. Jury selection lasted approximately two months and trial lasted nearly three months. On December 13, 2008, against extraordinary odds, Nichols’ life was spared by the jury and he was sentenced to multiple life sentences without parole.

 
2008 |
United States v. Saxon

Missy Owen and Noell Tin represented Sallie Saxon, who ran what federal prosecutors called “the most successful prostitution business in the United States.” Nicknamed “the Southpark Madame” by the media, Saxon employed a high-end ring of call girls and maintained a confidential list of 1200 clients which included lawyers, doctors, and bank executives. Facing up to 20 years in federal prison, Saxon was ultimately sentenced to 2 years of incarceration. As Owen commented, “Sallie was very good to the women who worked for her. She did all she could to limit the harm they might face as prostitutes.”

 
2008 |
State v. Jones

Mark Kleinschmidt was part of the defense team for Levon “Bo” Jones, who was finally released from custody after 15 years — 13 of which were spent on death row — for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Jones came within weeks of execution in 1997, his life saved only after Kleinschmidt and co-counsel Ken Rose of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation intervened and rescued the case from counsel who missed a critical filing deadline. After the conviction and sentence were vacated, all charges were dropped against Mr. Jones after the Duplin County District Attorney’s Office concluded that there was no evidence to bring his case before a jury. Mr. Jones’ case was the 129th exoneration in the United States since the death penalty resumed in the late 1970s. The story of Levon “Bo” Jones was later featured in The Last Lawyer: The Fight to Save Death Row Inamtes by John Temple.

 
2007 |
State v. Leardini

Jeff Leardini, a middle school teacher, was charged with improperly touching students. He was terminated by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and faced criminal charges. Noell Tin represented Leardini and secured a not guilty verdict on all charges in Mecklenburg County Superior Court in June, 2007.

Luke Largess subsequently represented Leardini in a civil action against CMS, alleging that CMS violated his right to due process when they terminated him. On February 24, 2012, a Federal District Court jury ruled in Leardini’s favor and awarded him over $1.1 million. Leardini said he never thought about giving up and putting the episode behind him, telling the Charlotte Observer: “My good name is worth it, even if it takes five years to get there.” Largess observed that the jury’s verdict should help “the school system to appreciate the personal pressure that people are under when they’re accused,” stressing that teachers “should be supported and not just treated as the enemy.”

 
2006 |
State v. R.F.

Missy Owen and Noell Tin represented R.F., who was tried for rape before a Mecklenburg County Superior Court jury in 2006. Owen and Tin secured a not guilty verdict.

 
2006 |
United States v. S.C.

Jake Sussman represented a health care employee being investigated for bribery and extortion. Extensive pre-indictment investigation and negotiations resulted in a guilty plea to a single count of health care fraud with a binding agreement for a non-prison sentence, which was accepted by the U.S. District Court.

 
2005 |
State v. Hardy

Prior to joining Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, Jake Sussman and Mark Kleinschmidt, along with attorney Henderson Hill, successfully represented Melvin Jay Hardy, Jr., in state post-conviction proceedings. Mr. Hardy had been on death row following two separate murders in Mecklenburg County in 1995 and 1997. Following a four-day evidentiary hearing in 2005, Mr. Hardy’s death sentence was vacated. The North Carolina Supreme Court subsequently upheld the lower court’s decision and Mr. Hardy was taken off of North Carolina’s death row.

 
2005 |
United State v. J.B.

Noell Tin represented Jimmy Bijoux at trial and then on appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Bijoux initially faced drug charges and charges of possessing a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. In a pretrial hearing, Tin won a suppression motion regarding the drugs and the Government dismissed the drug charges. Bijoux then pled guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. Over Tin’s objection, the trial judge enhanced Bijoux’ sentence to 20 years based upon evidence of drug quantity presented at the sentencing hearing, but for which Bijoux had not been tried. Tin challenged the sentence and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. But the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed the ruling, finding that the trial judge relied upon facts about drugs not proven beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. On remand, Bijoux received an 8-year sentence. The case was covered by the national media, including the Wall Street Journal.

 
2005 |
State v. S.B.

Noell Tin and Matthew Pruden represented a client charged with first-degree murder. After conducting an intensive investigation, Pruden and Tin demonstrated weaknesses in the State’s case, and S.B. pled guilty to aiding and abetting assault inflicting serious injury. He received a probationary sentence.

 
2004 |
United States v. Y.D.

Missy Owen represented defendant Y.D. at trial in the Western District of North Carolina in 2004 on charges that he engaged in immigration fraud by attempting to bribe an immigration officer. At the close of the Government’s evidence, Owen successfully moved for dismissal, arguing that the Government had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her client had the requisite criminal intent.

 
2004 |
State v. Parker

Noell Tin and Missy Owen successfully vacated their client’s three life sentences, which had been imposed in 1991 in Union County after multiple convictions for sexual assault.

 
2002 |
State v. J.G.

Noell Tin represented 19-year-old J.G. at trial in federal court on five counts of bank robbery and other related charges.

 
1999 |
United States v. Rhynes

Noell Tin represented Will Rhynes and was lead counsel in this multi-defendant drug conspiracy appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. All of the defendants had been previously convicted at trial for participating in a 25-year conspiracy to distribute drugs and launder money; most of the defendants had received life sentences, including Rhynes. In 1999, the Fourth Circuit reversed the convictions and remanded the case back to the trial court because the jury instructions and verdict sheet did not specify the type and quantity of drugs that the conspiracy verdict was founded upon. On remand, Will Rhynes was subject to a 15-year cap on his sentence based upon the drug quantities found to be attributable to him.

 
1999 |
United States v. L.M.

Noell Tin represented L.M., a local bondsman, who was charged with being part of a drug and money laundering conspiracy. Facing decades in prison, L.M. was found not guilty by a federal jury in Asheville, North Carolina.

 
1997 |
United States v. Ghantt

Noell Tin represented David Ghantt, the armored car driver who stole 17 million dollars from the Charlotte regional office of Loomis Fargo & Company on the evening of October 4, 1997 and fled to Mexico. It was the third largest cash heist in United States history. An FBI criminal investigation, international in scope, ultimately resulted in the arrest and conviction of eight people directly involved in the heist. The Loomis Fargo Bank Robbery was depicted in an episode of Masterminds and was featured on the docudrama series The FBI Files in a two-part episode entitled “The Un-perfect Crime.” It was also the subject of the book Heist!: The $17 Million Loomis Fargo Theft published in 2002.

 
1988 |
State v. Hunt

Adam Stein played a pivotal role in securing reversals of Darryl Hunt’s original convictions for crimes he did not commit: State v. Hunt, 91 N.C. App. 574, 372 S.E.2d 744 (1988) (the Arthur Wilson case) and State v. Hunt, 324 N.C. 343, 378 S.E.2d 754 (1989) (the Deborah Sykes case). Following these initial appeals, Stein continued representing Hunt during his retrial along with James E. Ferguson, II and Mark Rabil. After DNA results proved Hunt’s innocence in 1994, it still took 10 years of legal appeals to exonerate him. Hunt’s ordeal has been chronicled extensively in the media and through award-winning documentaries. Hunt was ultimately granted a pardon by the State of North Carolina and received a significant monetary payment from the City of Winston-Salem.