M. Alexander Charns

M. Alexander Charns

Member
Location:
Durham, North Carolina
Phone:
919-956-7564
Email:

CAREER GOAL: To achieve justice and improve the lives of my clients.

SELECTED MAJOR LITIGATION AND APPEALS:

State v. African-American teenager, First-Degree Murder charge dismissed after eleven jurors were selected.  Durham County Superior Court 2017.

State v. Carlos Antonio Riley, Jr., Durham County Superior Court, three week jury trial in 2015 for 21-year-old falsely charged with shooting a police officer.  Verdicts: Not Guilty (NG) of four felony assaults on police officer; NG Robbery with Dangerous Weapon; NG C&R; G C/L robbery.  Trial video can be found on youtube as well as newspaper coverage in News & Observer, Herald Sun and Slate magazine.    

State v. African-American mom   Jury trial of a woman, perceived to be Muslim, charged with a serious felony.  Motion to suppress photo line-up due to cross-racial identification issues, and failure of police to follow state statute.  Complicated jury selection based on race and religion. Special jury instructions created due to cross-racial identification.  Charges eventually dismissed.

BD v. DK and City of Durham, TASER in back leading to catastrophic facial injuries for jaywalking was excessive force due to Durham Police training, yet officer was entitled to public official immunity.  City not liable for unconstitutional use-of-force training as excessive force claim was an adequate remedy even though it was not compensable.  749 S.E.2d 110 (2013), disc. rev. granted, 367 N.C. 210 (2013), aff'd on remand, 767 S.E.2d 363 (2014), disc. rev. denied 768 S.E.2d 853 (2015).    

Motion to Suppress conversations of mother and teenaged son taped without court order or consent. Alleged violations of Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Fruits of surveillance placed under seal.  State v. W.H. Durham County Superior Court, 2014.

Fourth Circuit ruling that the Durham Police Dept.'s (DPD) vice squad violated federal wiretapping laws by cloning digital display pagers.  (lead counsel)  50 F.3d 285 (4th Cir. 1995).

Exposed the Durham vice squad's use of fraudulent court papers to collect the long distance phone records of scores of citizens; secured a court judgment and class action settlements from the phone company.  (lead counsel)  Durham County 94CVS 2309 and related litigation.

Uncovered a DPD Internal Affairs’ cover-up during discovery depositions leading to Durham’s largest police brutality settlement ($295,000) as of 1997. (Lead counsel) Durham County 94CVS5663.

Obtained a federal jury award: police Sgt. violated the U.S. Constitution by swearing out false warrants against an activist. (Lead counsel) 1995 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 2174 (M.D.N.C. 1995).

Forced the FBI to keep its Freedom of Information Act manual in the FBI’s public reading room. (co-counsel) 89-Civ.-5-BR (U.S.E.D.N.C. 1989)

Criminal appeals (e.g. State v. P., __ N.C.App. __ , 2014 N.C. App. LEXIS 606 (2014)(sexual misconduct convictions overturned on corpus delicti grounds); S. v. D., __ N.C.App. __, 731  S.E.2d 236 (2012)(new trial granted in child sexual offense prosecution rife with prosecutorial misconduct) and death penalty post-conviction work; S. v. Bowie, 512 F.3d 112 (4th Cir. 2008)(held deficient trial counsel, but no prejudice).  Five oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit; three in the Supreme Court of North Carolina; and eleven in the North Carolina Court of Appeals (including 140 N.C. App. 606, 538 S.E.2d 601 (2000)(overturned summary judgment for police officer).  Filed over 120 appellate briefs and petitions; conducted hundreds of bench trials and eleven jury trials (e.g. Durham County, 85CRSxxxx, week-long trial in child sexual offense and child rape prosecution against father; First Amendment arguments in criminal obscenity charge defense in Cumberland and Lee Counties). 

AUTHOR
Cloak and Gavel: FBI Wiretaps, Bugs, Informers and the Supreme Court (University of Illinois Press 1992) 
*"Cloak and Gavel" . . . is the product of an eight-year struggle to force the FBI to reveal its Supreme Court snooping.  Charns got . . . hard evidence that Hoover attempted to monitor the court's private deliberations and manipulate some of the justices."  Wall Street Journal, A13, 9/1/92
*"The FBI's scandalous techniques ranged from illegal wiretapping, to disinformation campaigns, to using Justice Abe Fortas as a Bureau informant."  Harvard Law Review, Vol 106, p. 812.
*"[A] bonanza of Supreme Court history, providing depth and perspective to some great cases of our time."  St Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/18/92. 

EDUCATION
 University of North Carolina School of Law, J.D. 1982
 University of California, Berkeley, B.A. Social Welfare 1978
 Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, 1976-1977; Michigan State University, 1975
    
LAW  

Charns Law office, 2017 to present

Charns & Donovan, 2014 to 2017

Private solo practice, 2008 to 2014

Partner, Charns & Charns, July 2002 – 2008
Private sole practice, Durham, N.C. July 1, 1996 - 2002
Partner, Duvoisin & Charns 1993 - July 1, 1996
Private solo practice, Durham, N.C.  1984 - 1993
Loflin & Loflin, Durham, N.C.  1982 - 1984

BOARDS AND AFFILIATIONS: Triangle Youth Hockey of N.C., head or assistant coach, 2008-present; Fourteenth Judicial District Bar Grievance Committee (2002-2004), Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project, National Advisory Committee member, former First Presbyterian Day School Board of Directors, member (2000-2002), Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, parish member and former English as a Second Language Teacher. 
AWARDS: INDEPENDENT WEEKLY’S CITIZEN AWARD, NEWS AND OBSERVER’S  TAR HEEL OF THE WEEK, and WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN LAW (2006 ed.).

PARTIAL LIST OF ADDITIONAL PUBLICATIONS
Essay: "How it took Thirteen Years and Two Lawsuits to get J. Edgar Hoover's Secret Supreme Court Sex Files," (co-written with Paul M. Green), Athan Theoharis, editor, A Culture of Secrecy.  The Government vs. the People's Right to Know (University Kansas Press 1998)
The New York Times (no by-lines)
"FBI Kept Secret File on the Supreme Court"  Aug. 21, 1988
"Report on Kennedy Ended a Hoover-Warren Alliance" Nov. 29, 1985
"FBI Maintained Close Watch on Justice Douglas" July 22, 1984
"Legal Moves Keep '79 Dispute Active: Anti-Klan Rally in which 5 Died is Subject of U.S. Inquiry and Private Lawsuits" Nov. 14, 1982
The Washington Post
"My Hero Still [Thurgood Marshall]," Dec. 16, 1996
"How the FBI Spied on the High Court" Dec. 3, 1989
"Major Question Linger in Klan-Nazi Trial" Feb. 25, 1984 (contributor byline)
"Slaves are Free at Last in North Carolina?" Aug. 23, 1983
San Francisco Examiner 
"How JFK Report Split Warren and Hoover" Nov. 30, 1985
Southern Exposure Magazine
"Gavelgate" Fall 1990
EDITOR
"U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Judges [FBI] Files," UPA (1992) (microfiche)

Mailing address and Phone:
P.O. Box 59, Durham, NC 27702 
(919) 956-7564
 

 

Areas of Practice

  • Criminal Law

Representative Cases

  • *Every case, trial or appeal is unique and dependent upon the relevant facts and law.