Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Understanding Massachusetts Marijuana Laws

Law enforcement in Peabody recently arrested two men and seized illegal marijuana products. Photos posted on the department’s Facebook page later revealed boxes full of marijuana-laced Wonka bars, Nerds Ropes, and other candy. The candy is believed to have a street value of $1.2 million. The two men were arrested after neighbors assisted in the investigation. Following the arrest, Peabody law enforcement commented that the illegal drug black market in the state is still viable. 

The bust comes as police departments nationwide have warned parents to be “vigilant” about their children’s Halloween candy. Police in Pennsylvania earlier this month seized bags of Nerds Ropes containing THC.

In November 2016, voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot that put an end to marijuana prohibitions for adults who are 21 and older. While this law made it legal for an adult in the state to grow and possess Cannabis, there still complexities to these laws. The following will review some of the most important things to remember about Massachusetts marijuana law so you can avoid facing prosecution. 

Marijuana Laws Must be Followed in Massachusetts

Some of the important regulations that you must remember to follow in Massachusetts regarding marijuana include:

  • You must be 21 or older to purchase and use marijuana even though there are medical exceptions to this law.

  • You need not be a resident of Massachusetts to purchase and use marijuana in the state. Instead, all that a person needs is a government ID.

  • A person cannot use marijuana of any type on either federal or public land.

  • A person is allowed to have up to one ounce of cannabis on them and no more than 10 ounces of marijuana in their home.

  • A person can grow no more than six marijuana plants in their home. If two or more individuals reside in a home, they are allowed to grow up to 12 plants.

  • If there is more than one ounce of marijuana in your home, it must be locked up so children and pets are kept safe. 

  • While transporting marijuana in a vehicle, the marijuana must be stored in a closed container in the trunk or a locked glove compartment.

  • It is against the law to have an open container of marijuana in any form in the passenger area of a vehicle while on the road or in a location where it can be accessed by the public. 

  • Employers, landlords, and towns throughout Massachusetts are permitted to have their own policies concerning the use of marijuana. 

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been charged with a violation of a marijuana violation in Massachusetts, you can end up facing serious consequences. Do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney like Edward R Molari in these situations. 

A Massachusetts Lawyer can Help Defend You Against Assault Charges

A man in Mattapan was recently arrested after assaulting a woman while she was walking along a Boston bike path. The arrest came after a Lincoln Police Department officer encountered a man who matched the suspect’s description. The man has since been arraigned on charges of assault and battery as well as assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. 

Assault is a criminal offense that is defined in several ways. Sometimes, the offense involves intentionally making another individual feel that they are about to be physically harmed. Physical injury is not necessary to establish this type of assault charge. A “battery” refers to actual physical contact. There are also more serious assault charges recognized in Massachusetts including aggravated assault, indecent assault, and several types of assault and battery. 

Assault in Massachusetts can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense. Regardless of the exact type of charges that you face, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure your rights are protected. 

Steps to Take if You Have Been Accused of an Assault

One of the first steps that you should take if you have been accused of an assault is to retain the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. If you have been falsely accused of assault, it is critical to remember that you can still be convicted. 

In many situations, it becomes necessary to retain the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has the knowledge and experience necessary to make sure you successfully navigate the criminal justice system. 

Some of the other helpful steps you should take include:

  • Preserve any evidence or details about your case. Often, the best way to do this is by writing down your own narrative of how the events occurred. 

  • Make a list of anyone who saw the events occur and who will be able to provide testimony that will help your case. 

  • While a lawyer will provide a lot of guidance during this difficult time, it is also a wise idea to teach yourself about the criminal justice system. 

  • Understand your rights. This means that if you are questioned by law enforcement, you have the right to remain silent. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, you also have the right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

Defenses That can be Raised in Response to Assault Charges

Even if you have become falsely accused of assault, it sometimes becomes necessary to create a strong defense strategy. Some of the best ways to respond to these charges include:

  • Arguing that you have been falsely accused as a result of mistaken identity.

  • Arguing that you only acted in self-defense or to defend someone around you.

  • Arguing that you were protecting your home. To successfully argue this defense, you must establish that you had a reasonable belief that the other person was about to cause serious bodily injury and that you only used reasonable force for defense.

The Importance of Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of committing an assault, the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer with the requisite knowledge is essential. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system to increase the chances that your case proceeds in the best possible manner. Contact attorney Edward R Molari today to schedule a free initial consultation.

Responding to False Accusations of Domestic Violence

A Massachusetts superior judge was recently arrested for grabbing her wife by the hair and yanking her head back during an argument. The Judge, who resides in Worcester Superior Court, was arraigned in Marlborough District Court on a charge of domestic assault and battery. Police reports and records reveal that the judge argued law enforcement should let her go because she is a judge. The victim of the accident informed law enforcement that the judge had pulled her hair. 

The 21st century has seen the advancement of women’s rights, but unfortunately, not everyone reasonably uses domestic violence laws. Instead, there are cases of people using domestic violence laws to advance a settlement. In other cases, vindictive former lovers falsely accuse partners of domestic violence as a means of seeking revenge. This is because being convicted of domestic violence can result in complications that you face for the rest of your life. Some of the challenges that can result from these complications are a destroyed social reputation and loss of custody rights. This is why it is important to remain proactive and to take some helpful steps to reduce the risk of facing domestic violence allegations. 

Understand What Constitutes Domestic Violence

One of the best steps to take in preventing domestic violence is to understand the various actions this category includes. Typically, domestic violence is divided into three categories — economic abuse, psychological violence, and sexual violence. While many people are familiar with hitting someone and rape as a type of domestic violence, there are many other ways domestic violence can occur including stalking, threatening to ruin a partner’s reputation or other types of harassing behavior. 

Avoid Fights

Whenever possible, avoid getting into a fight with the other person. This means not yelling or saying derogatory things. If you do end up in a heated argument, do whatever you can to diffuse the disagreement. 

Get Witnesses

Many domestic violence cases resort to he said/she said disagreement. As a result, it is a wise idea to have witnesses who can make statements supporting your character. Slightly related to this is to always make sure to speak the truth around others. 

Anticipate Possible Disagreements

If you believe that a person wants to falsely accuse you of domestic violence as a means of seeking revenge, it is a wise idea to anticipate these arguments. If you believe that a partner would act in this way, you should anticipate these arguments and begin collecting evidence that can be used to support your case.

Speak with a Domestic Violence Lawyer

If you face any type of domestic violence charge, you should not hesitate to obtain the assistance of a family law attorney who has substantial experience helping people respond to these charges. Attorney Edward R Molari will review the facts of your case and help you create the strongest legal strategy possible. Contact our law office today to schedule a free case evaluation. 

Massachusetts Court to Consider Warrantless License Plate Tracking

The highest court in Massachusetts is poised to consider a case that has the potential to change how law enforcement can use data gathered by automated license plate readers. The central question in the case of Commonwealth v. Jason McCarthy is whether law enforcement must obtain a court order or search warrant to use the information provided by automated license plate readers, which automatically scan the license plates of passing vehicles. 

How the Facts of the Case Arose

Brian McCarthy and Brian Whittemore were arrested on drug-related charges. The arrest occurred while law enforcement was investigating Whittemore for drug dealing and spotted McCarthy’s mother’s vehicle at Whittemore’s house. Using automated license plate readers, law enforcement tracked McCarthy’s vehicle. The police later followed McCarthy and observed what they determined to be a drug deal. Later, law enforcement seized money McCarthy used to pay bail on the basis that it was believed to be drug money. 

Arguments Presented by Both Sides

McCarthy’s case involves the argument that law enforcement violated his privacy rights through the use of license plate readers. Because his privacy rights were invaded, McCarthy argues that all seized evidence should be suppressed. Lawyers on behalf of McCarthy state that he has a right to be left free from government surveillance to this degree without the oversight of a judge.

On the opposite side of this argument is the prosecution, who argues that someone driving on a public roadway does not have an expectation of privacy. Because McCarthy had no expectation of privacy, law enforcement argues that his rights were not invaded by this search. 

The Role of License Plate Readers in Massachusetts

Since 2014, license plate readers have been used by law enforcement in Massachusetts. While law enforcement has grown to depend heavily on these searches, they have also been met with opposition by some parties. 

In response, the ACLU has been requesting that the Commonwealth create limits regarding how these devices can be used as well as how data gathered from this equipment is stored and accessed. The ACLU and other organizations have even proposed a bill that would limit the amount of time law enforcement has to store data gathered from license plate readers. Massachusetts legislatures have also considered measures of this type, but they have never been passed. Law enforcement, however, has commented that these regulations would interfere with their ability to investigate crimes. In response, the ACLU has argued that there should still be controls on these searches because otherwise, law enforcement would be able to obtain potentially invasive details about individuals including their marital fidelity and religious observances. 

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

There are several ways in which law enforcement in Massachusetts can gather details about a person. Fortunately, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help respond to these charges. If you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney, do not hesitate to contact attorney Edward R. Molari today.


Understanding Massachusetts Animal Cruelty Charges

A man in Massachusetts was recently arrested after attempting to harm animals through the use of peanut butter baits that contained razor blades. Law enforcement arrested the man after receiving a tip-off about the man’s activity. During initial surveillance, officers from the Marine and Environmental Services reported that they had spotted the man baiting the tree and watching as animals were lured to his trap inside Falmouth’s Goodwill Park. 

It remains uncertain when the man began trapping or how often he did it. As a result of this activity, the man is now charged with animal cruelty, reckless behavior creating a risk of serious bodily injury, and injuries to trees. According to Massachusetts Law Enforcement, the man has since been released on bail after his weekend arrest. In addition to facing criminal penalties, the public also expressed disgust for the behavior after several photos of the man were posted online. 

In 2014, animal abuse laws in Massachusetts were greatly expanded. The Act Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) increased punishments for existing animal abuse crimes as well as created a mandatory requirement for veterinarians to report abuse. Currently, the PAWS act states that the punishment for animal abuse ranges from five to seven years in prison as well as fines of $5,000. This article reviews some other important details about animal abuse charges that you should know. 

Animal Abuse in Massachusetts is a Felony

Under current Massachusetts laws, animal cruelty is classified as a felony. Fortunately, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can sometimes help reduce these charges to misdemeanors. A person has a great chance of receiving a charge less than a felony if either they have a strong defense or the prosecution has weak grounds on which to base a conviction. 

Types of Animal Abuse Massachusetts Recognizes

There are several types of animal abuse recognized in Massachusetts, which include:

  • Animal abandonment. This category applies when a person leaves a pet behind after moving or refuse to let an animal return into a home.

  • Animal cruelty. This category comprises things like intentional torture as well as physical violence.

  • Animal neglect. This category includes things like not providing an animal with sufficient food or water.

  • Extreme heat. An individual who has custody of an animal cannot leave it in their vehicle during extreme weather conditions that would endanger the animal’s health. 

If a person is convicted of animal cruelty in Massachusetts, the individual can end up facing serious penalties. The exact consequences that a person faces depends on whether the offense was a first time or subsequent offense. 

Penalties break down in the following manner:

  • First offense. This penalty can result in up to seven years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000. 

  • Second and subsequent offenses offense. Individuals convicted of this offense can end up facing 10 years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000. 

In addition to these penalties, an individual will also forfeit any rights to ever work with or around animals in Massachusetts. 

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

Given the serious consequences that can result from a conviction for animal cruelty, it can help to speak with an experienced Massachusetts criminal lawyer. Experienced criminal defense lawyer Edward R. Molari can help respond to these charges. Contact attorney Molari’s office today to schedule an initial free consultation. 

How to Defend Against Massachusetts Machine Gun Charges

Law enforcement in Lynn recently arrested two men for possession of a machine gun after stopping the motorists for a vehicle violation. The two men were subsequently charged with possession of a machine gun, possession of a large capacity weapon, and possession of a firearm and ammunition without a permit.  

While law enforcement was taking the two men into custody, an officer found a MasterPiece Arms 9 mm pistol as well as a 30-round magazine. The men were then released on a $1,000 bail.

Massachusetts Law Addressing Machine Guns

Massachusetts law prohibits the possession of a machine gun, except for specific exemptions that are created by law including the use of machine guns by some members of law enforcement. State code defines a machine gun as any loaded or unloaded weapon that is capable of automatically or rapidly discharging shots by one activation of the trigger.

The Penalties Associated with the Use of a Machine Gun

The state of Massachusetts takes offenses involving machine guns particularly serious. Possession of a machine gun can result in a person facing between 18 months up to a maximum of life in prison. The reason why the commonwealth takes machine gun offenses so seriously is that the weapons are frequently used in the commission of very violent offenses. 

Arguing that Prosecution Failed to Satisfy All Elements of an Offense

There are certain elements that must be satisfied to justify a conviction involving a submachine gun. For one, the firearm must meet the court’s definition of a machine gun. Consequently, some people who are charged with this offense end up retaining the assistance of a ballistics experts who can argue that the involved item does not satisfy the court’s definition of a machine gun.  

Other Defenses That can be Raised in Response to Machine Gun Charges

Some of the other defenses that can be raised in response to a charge of machine gun possession include the following: 

  • If a machine gun was seized as the result of an unlawful search by law enforcement, it is possible to file a motion to suppress evidence. This is because the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an individual against unreasonable searches and seizures.

  • Most machine gun charges involve establishing that the firearm was in a person’s “possession,” which can be a difficult element of an offense to prove. A skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to review the facts of your case and help create a strong argument that you were not in possession of a firearm.

  • Prosecution also must establish that a person knowingly possessed a machine gun. It can be difficult to meet this element of an offense. Without establishing that a person knew of a machine gun’s presence, however, prosecution will not be able to convict a person. 

Speak With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Attorney Edward Molari has substantial experience helping people in Massachusetts defend against a number of different types of charges including those related to machine guns. 

If you are facing a weapons charge, it is important to understand that the resulting penalties could create a number of challenges that you end up facing for the rest of your life. Contact attorney Edward R. Molari today to schedule a free initial consultation.

Responding to Charges of Criminal Trespass


A Massachusetts law enforcement officer was recently stripped of his gun and placed on restricted duty after the office was arrested at an Iron Maiden concert at the Xfinity Center for trespassing.  

The arrest occurred after a parking attendant informed Mansfield law enforcement that an argument was developing between two parties in the parking lot of the concert. Law enforcement later observed the officer having an argument with a woman. According to law enforcement, the man initially ignored instructions and refused to present identification. Instead, the man continued yelling at the woman. 

Trespassing might seem like a minor criminal offense, but it can result in some undesirable consequences that last for years to come. For example, details regarding a criminal conviction will appear on a person’s criminal history, which can lead to a number of challenges in pursuing a career, housing, or an education. 

Fortunately, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you create a strong legal strategy to defend against these charges. 

Penalties Associated with Trespassing

There are several penalties that a person in Massachusetts can receive as a result of a trespassing conviction. For example, a person convicted of trespass can face a maximum of 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $100. 

While these penalties might not seem as serious as other criminal offenses, they will still result in a person being viewed as having a criminal record. Fortunately, there are a number of defenses that can be raised in response to these charges.

Trespassing Defense Strategies

There are a number of defense strategies we can use to successfully beat trespassing charges. There is almost always more to the story then a person accidentally and without permission wandering onto public or private property. 

Instead, most people in Massachusetts are not charged with criminal trespass unless they trespass in a deliberate manner. One common defense is arguing that prosecution has failed to satisfy all of the elements of a criminal offense. 

Massachusetts law states that trespass occurs when a person without right enters or remains in an area after having been forbidden to do so by the individual who has lawful control of the property. This means that if prosecution is able to establish that a person was permitted to enter an area, it will not be possible to justify a trespass conviction. 

If a person receives a criminal citation, a lawyer can review the details of the case and sometimes even dismiss the charges at a hearing. If a person has already been arrested or other charges are involved, this can make matters much more complicated. Even in these situations, however, it is often still possible to avoid a conviction. 

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Being charged with trespass might seem minor, but it can lead to a number of unanticipated and undesirable obstacles. If you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney, do not hesitate to contact attorney Edward R. Molari


Strategies to Defend Against Drug Possession Charges


Law enforcement in Monson recently arrested a woman who described as a “habitual heroin dealer” after she was accused of selling drugs to two people. 

Consequently, the woman was charged with two counts of distribution of heroin as well as conspiracy to violate drug laws. Following the arrest, law enforcement also seized 39 bags of what is believed to be heroin as well as $180 in cash. Bail was set at $25,000 and the woman is currently being held in a Massachusetts correctional center. 

If you have been charged with possession of an illegal drug in Massachusetts, you have several options to proceed. There are a number of defenses that can be raised in response to drug charges. The following will review some of the most common tactics used to defend against drug possession charges.

Failure to Satisfy the Elements of an Offense

One of the most common strategies used to defend against a possession charge is to establish that law enforcement has failed to establish each element of an offense. For example, prosecution must establish that you actually possessed the illegal substance to justify a conviction. 

In addition to arguing that a person did not actually possess an illegal substance, it might also be possible to claim that, based on its chemical composition, a substance was not illegal to possess.

Constitutional Defenses to Drug Possession Charges

The United States Supreme Court case of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts made it much more difficult to establish the necessary elements for a drug possession charge. 

In this case, the United States Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could not rely on affidavits from a chemist claiming that a substance is an illegal narcotic. Instead, the Supreme Court held that the Commonwealth would be required to call the chemist as a witness concerning the substance’s nature. 

To avoid this requirement, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sometimes attempts to use law enforcement officers to testify to a substance’s illegal nature. 

Avoiding Penalties Associated with Drug Possession Charges

With drug offenses, a skilled defense attorney can often help a person resolve the matter in a way that avoid a criminal conviction. Some of the options that a person might have include the following:

  • CWOF. These involve an admission that a person committed a drug offense, but that the offense will not result in a criminal conviction or loss of a professional license. This is often not the most preferable way to resolve a case.

  • Guilty pleas with probation. If a person has a criminal record, this option can sometimes be the most attractive. 

  • Pretrial probation. In some situations involving drug offense, the district attorney might agree to dismiss a case provided that certain conditions are satisfied. Pretrial probation is advantageous because it does not involve any admission of criminal activity. 

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have questions or concerns about the best tactic to defend against a drug charge, one of the best steps that you can take is to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact attorney Edward R. Molari today to schedule a free case evaluation. 


Straight Pride Counterprotestors Litigation

Last weekend Boston hosted the straight pride parade.  It was not recieved well. That appears to be the point.  As was the case with past demonstrations of nationalist animosity, the straight pride parade drew substantially more counterprotestors than it did participants.  Some of these counterprotestors were arrested for various offenses, and arraigned in the Central Municipal Court on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two of the judges in the Central Municipal Court took steps during the arriagnments of the counterprotestors that call into question the limits of the judicial power.  In one example, Judge Horgan ordered the counterprotestors to stay out of the city of Boston while their cases were pending.  So-called "stay-away" orders are common where the alleged crime is related to a particular location.  In Boston, in particular, orders to remain out of the city entirely are more common than in any other metro-area in Massachusetts.  In this case, where the Court's order is to remain out of the entire city of Boston for reasons that have almost nothing to do with the city itself, the order seems pretty clearly overbroad and unconstitutional.  Since at least some of the people who are subject to the order were presumably engaged in deliberate civil disobedience, it would seem like an opportune time for someone to file an interlocutory appeal of the Court's order.  After all, picking fights and taking names is kind of the point of civil disobedience, and it is long since time call attention to, and hopefully end, the practice of banishing people from the city while their cases are pending. 

In another example, Judge Sinnot refused to accept the request of prosecutors in Rachael Rollins' office to dismiss certain charges prior to arraignment.  Rollins was recently elected with a notorioius policy of declining to prosecute certain kinds of cases, including cases in which someone is charged with only resistig arrest (the point being that an arrest should be premised on an actual crime before it becomes a crime to resist it).  In this case, prosecutors moved to dismiss certain cases but the judge refused to allow their motion to dismiss.  Former federal judge Nancy Gertner called the refusal to grant the Commonwealth's request "lawless."

It is hard to find accurate information on what exactly happened, but certain reports suggested that prosecutors had moved to dismiss the cases upon the completion of community service. Other reports suggested that Rollins' peitiotn to the SJC alleged that the judges refused to accept something called a nolle pros.  It seems that some of the confusion over these cases depends on the difference between the two.  A dismissal is an act of the Court. It can be conditional or unconditional, but when the prosecutor moves to "dismiss" a case they are asking the Court to invoke its authority to order charges dismissed. A "nolle pros" (latin) is different because it is not an act of the Court. A "nolle pros" is an act of the prosecutor, which has the effect of unilaterally terminating the prosecution.  Filing a nolle pros might be less desireable for a prosecutor because it cannot be conditioned on any terms that are enforceable by the court. 

Two rock-solid propositions: First, a judge definitely has the discretion to refuse to dismiss a case, even where that request is made by the prosecution.  Second, a judge also has absolutely no authority to refuse to accept a nolle pros.  The trick here may be that a third rock-solid proposition is that the court never has to explain to a party that its action is based on the way the party phrased its motion.  It may simply be that the prosecutor in the room used the words "move to dismiss" when they should have moved to "nolle pros."

Can Law Enforcement Pull You Over for No Reason?

Law enforcement officers in Brockton were recently driving behind a vehicle when they suspected that the car windows were tinted darker than what was allowed by law. They also noticed that the vehicle lacked a front license plate. Law enforcement then became suspicious due to the driver’s peculiar movement. 

This resulted in the driver being arrested after a loaded and stolen firearm was discovered under one of the vehicle’s car seats. The driver was subsequently charged with possession of a firearm without an FID card, possession of ammunition without an FID card, improper storage of a firearm, carrying a loaded firearm, receiving stolen property over $1,200, having a window obstructed, and a license plate violation. 

A law enforcement officer’s decision to pull you over represents a detention. While you are not free to leave, you also have not been arrested. To perform this type of detention, law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion that you were committing a violation. 

In the case above, the violation that amounted to reasonable suspicion was that the driver’s car had windows that were tinted to an illegal degree. The purpose of requiring reasonable suspicion to stop a motorist is that this prevents law enforcement from stopping a person on a whim. 

How the Supreme Court Influenced this Area of Law

In the case of Delaware v. Prouse, the Supreme Court considered the arguments of a man prosecuted for marijuana possession. During a traffic stop, law enforcement spotted marijuana on the floor of the man’s vehicle. Law enforcement argued that defendant had not been seen committing any traffic violations. There were also not any equipment violations involving defendant’s vehicle. 

Instead, law enforcement had only made the stop to examine the driver’s license as well as to inspect the vehicle’s registration. The Supreme Court consequently held that this type of stop was unconstitutional. 

Be Wary of Evidence Seized During Stops

There are a number of tactics that the Supreme Court of the United States has found are permissible for law enforcement to employ  to obtain evidence against a person. There are also rules that restrict the way in which law enforcement can obtain this evidence. 

For example, the exclusionary rule requires that evidence obtained during an unlawful arrest or detention be excluded from a court of law. The United States Supreme Court, however, has held that law enforcement officers who learn about arrest warrants only after having made a stop can use this knowledge to justify an illegal detention. 

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Being suddenly stopped by law enforcement can be frightening, particularly when you were in the commission of a criminal offense or have something illegal on you. During these times, however, it is important to remember that you have rights. It is also important to remember that law enforcement must follow restrictions regarding how evidence must be handled. 

If you have been arrested following a vehicle stop, contact criminal defense attorney Edward R. Molari today to schedule a free initial consultation.