Ian Garlic interviews Wilmington Criminal Defense Attorney Michelle Sparrow. Previously a prosecutor, Michelle tells some of her funniest court stories that have happened to her over the years.

The Stories You’ll Hear: 

  • A dozen roses getting delivered to Michelle directly in the courtroom
  • A court trial where the prosecutor has cocaine all over her dress
  • Ten pounds of… fake marijuana
  • Green Ninja Turtles in Court


Connect with Michelle

Sparrow Law Firm

Read Transcript Below:

Ian Garlic: Welcome back to True Law Stories. I’m Ian Garlic, your host of True Law Stories. For this special edition, I’ve got an amazing attorney who’s going to tell some crazy prosecutor stories. Michelle Sparrow is on. But before we get started and I introduce you to Michelle. 


This is of course, brought to you by storycrews.com. Whether you’re trying to tell that your client’s story or your business stories, storycrews.com is the ultimate resource to learn how to tell video case stories or to find someone that can do it. Go to storycrews.com/casestory. 


All right, Ms. Michelle Sparrow attorney, former prosecutor. Thank you for being on True Loss Stories.


Michelle Sparrow: Thank you for inviting me.


Ian Garlic: I’m super excited cause you’ve got some crazy laws stories about drugs not being there, holes in the drugs, ninja turtles. And I want to get through all of these because usually, we’re going to do one or two, but you have three great ones. I want to talk through them. But first, before we get started, you’re in criminal defense. Correct?


Michelle Sparrow: Correct. I am a former prosecutor and now criminal defense lawyer.


Ian Garlic: Where, where are your offices? 


Michelle Sparrow: I have offices in Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina. 


Ian Garlic: Wilmington, North Carolina. Beautiful there. And how did you get into law? 


Michelle Sparrow: Is this something somebody chooses? I mean, who would choose this? Right? I did. 


Ian Garlic: Are people drafted?

Michelle Sparrow: Why did you choose to be ridiculed and asked why you represent people? You know, that kind of thing? I don’t know. It just happened, right? Yeah. I had other aspirations before this I thought I was going to be a dancer. I didn’t have any dance lessons. I didn’t know how to dance. I didn’t, you know, so that didn’t work out for me. I just pick that out of the air and my dad owned bars, so I was going to be a dancer in one of his bars and I just decided to go another way. It could be a whole different life, a whole different thing. 


Ian Garlic: It’s different, like the in bars. 


Michelle Sparrow: So yeah, no that didn’t work out for me. Just didn’t have the time. So I thought about social work. I thought about being a cop. You know different things ran through my head. And I ended up working for my dad for a while. I was in real estate before I went to law school. And, uh, yeah, I didn’t want to work for him either. 


So prosecutor after that, Wake County. Loved it, loved the work there. Loved being on that staff. And then at some point, I said, “it’s time to go out on my own.” And I did. So that’s why I’m here.


Ian Garlic: What’s it like to be a prosecutor, like in someplace like Wake County? I mean, you see all forms of life, don’t you? 


Michelle Sparrow: You do. Yeah. I mean, it’s you know, it’s a huge district. It’s like, I guess it’s the second-largest district in North Carolina. I could be wrong, but I believe that. And, uh, so all kinds of cases go through there, you see all kinds of things, you know. And as a prosecutor, I prosecute everything from like traffic tickets to murder cases.


Right? It’s just like the gamut. And it’s always something interesting in the courthouse. Always.


Ian Garlic: Yeah. The prosecutor, you do a lot of trials, right? You go through a lot of trial work, right?


Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. You’re constantly in trial. And I was there, like, I think it was like eight years. So yeah. I tried a lot of cases.

Ian Garlic: I think most people don’t realize this, if you’re not in law, is that most attorneys don’t go to trial, correct?


Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. So, uh, prosecutors get a lot of trial experience, cause that’s what we do. Litigators get a lot of trial experience if they can just litigate. But generally, you know, when you become a defense attorney, you’re doing a lot of negotiation. A lot of, you know, getting your audience in front of whomever to try to work it out first.


So I always start with a “nice Michelle,” you know that’s not the right word, but the negotiation, you know, the easy, let’s get along, let’s try to figure this out. And if that doesn’t work, I usually then revert to “litigator Michelle.”


Ian Garlic: Obviously, crazy. We’re gonna talk about some of these crazy stories, but you know, when you became a defense attorney, what’s the most fulfilling part then about being a defense attorney? Because that’s gotta be tough. Cause you see, you know, all. You’re defending people’s lives.


Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. That’s what I hear. See how great it is right now. It is rewarding. It really is. And it’s like, it’s whether- it doesn’t- people were like,” how could you be a prosecutor now, a defense attorney?” It really doesn’t matter if you’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t, which side you’re on. You’re doing the right thing.


So I’ve seen a lot of people turn things around. That is the most rewarding thing. I’ve seen people like, you know, that I thought, “Oh wow. You know this is going to be a long road for them. I don’t know if they’re going to get back on track.” Um, but they do, you know, and there’s a lot of stories like that over the course of my career.


So thinking about that and people moving on and not seeing them again is why I do this.


Ian Garlic: I love it. If you see them again, you see them in a good way. It’s not that you’d never want to see them again.


You don’t want them joining the Sparrow Law Firm punch card. So, and if you all know anyone that’s been trouble, or “goes on vacation and doesn’t want to leave on probation,” that’s Michelle’s tagline in Wilmington, you can go to a criminallawwilmington.com or sparrowlawfirm.com. And you can learn more about her and talk to her. She is awesome, obviously, very friendly, but also very knowledgeable. 


And we’re, we’re seeing good Michelle right now. I’m assuming. 


So you’ve got some crazy stories. I think let’s start with, uh, let’s talk about some cocaine.


Michelle Sparrow: Okay, yeah sure. What do you want to talk about?


Ian Garlic: You know, obviously getting prosecuted for drug offenses or prosecuting drug offenses must be interesting. Tell me about your, your incidents about getting cocaine all over someone.

Rose Delivery During Trial

Michelle Sparrow: One of the funny things that happened when I was prosecuting- just weird things happen. I mean, there’s too many. I could probably write a book, but one of the things that was kind of funny was I was prosecuting this guy for DWI, just a regular guy, but he’d been out on a golf course.


He drank too many and he like hit a ditch, had an accident. Nobody was hurt. But he was on trial. I was prosecuting him. And, um, the jury was all there, obviously. In a break right before they were getting ready to go deliberate, whether he was guilty or not guilty, I get a dozen roses that are delivered to the courtroom.


And I’m like, “What is this?” And it was from him. And there was such a nice little card and it said, “Whatever happens to me. Thank you. You’ve been very fair and efficient and dah, dah, dah.” I was like, “This is just really nice.” So everyone had a good laugh at that. The judge, the bailiff, the other lawyer that was representing him. He did get convicted, but what a nice guy, you know,


That’s like preemptive. Like, you know, most husbands aren’t that smart to do that with their wives. And this guy was smart enough to do with the prosecutor.

Michelle Sparrow: It always stuck out. I was like, “Wow, that’s just really cool.”


I had another guy that I was prosecuting. Um, it was, uh, it was a cocaine charge. I was the prosecutor. He was found guilty. He went to prison, and when I became a defense attorney, he called me up trying to hire me. He liked the work I did prosecuting him. So now he now wanted me to defend him. I was like, this is just like a compliment. Really. 


Ian Garlic: Yeah, it is. It’s like a self-referral right. 


Michelle Sparrow:  I sent him one elsewhere. But anyway…


Ian Garlic: So that’s crazy. I mean, like, I’m just confused. How did they even like, get the roses in there? Do the roses come into the courtroom? So they had a delivery person go through all the security and everything?


Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. With a dozen red roses and a card. You know, the whole bit. And up to the courtroom, walk in and go –


And we were on a break, obviously, it was like, “Is Michelle Sparrow in here?” and I’m like, “yeah, that’s me… it’s not my birthday. What, where did this come from?” You know, you always get flowers and you’re always like, “Oh!” So I was like taking the side room. We have side rooms, you know, and I was just embarrassed at that point.


And I walk in there and I pick the card up and it’s from the defendant and I’m like, “Holy moly.” I’m like, ‘What do I do? Do I go say, thank you? And then ask the jury to find him guilty.” You know? So he can be sentenced. I don’t know, what do I doing here? This is wasn’t in my etiquette book or my prosecutor, manual.


Ian Garlic: They don’t teach you that law school, like “what to do if you get roses from the defendant.”


Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. But I still – You know, that’s still just one of my funny, you know, kind of cool stories. 


Ian Garlic: That’s crazy. And, and also you had a cocaine story. I keep wanting to talk about cocaine, but –

Cocaine Dresses

Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. Let’s talk about cocaine.


I was prosecuting, another drug charge and the guy was basically saying he didn’t know that he had cocaine in a package that’s bigger than a carry-on piece of luggage in the back of his car. And, I was trying to- I was probably getting into it and wanting to make a dramatic point about how couldn’t, you know, how you couldn’t know that this huge package was cocaine.


And I had on this Navy blue dress during the trial or during this- on this particular day. And I picked the cocaine up, marched up to where he was. You know, in front of the jury and the judge and the bailiff and the other defense attorney slammed the cocaine down and had a hole in it. And it was a big enough hole so that I was completely sprayed, like my face all the way down, my navy blue and again, you know, they don’t- how do you- what do you do? You know? I didn’t want to, like, “I have a lot of energy after that.” I’m just kidding. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t inhale.


Ian Garlic: So what did you do?


Michelle Sparrow: Wiped it off, kept going. 


Ian Garlic: At this point, you’re in possession, right?


Michelle Sparrow: Yeah, exactly and consuming apparently. It probably went off on those. It was just horrific, but yeah, I just kind of brushed it off, trying to be nonchalant. Kind of side-eyed, looking at the jury and about half of them are just dying, laughing, and I’m trying not to lose it because I had momentum and I was in the prosecution mode and I was trying to, you know, get my point across.


Ian Garlic: That’s not the kind of thing you see often on law and order.


Michelle Sparrow: No, they usually get it right. You know, they don’t, they don’t mess up like that. It’s the mess-ups to me that are funny.


Ian Garlic: Well, it is. I mean, when you’re doing something- I mean, how many, how many trials did you do? Let’s say a month.


Michelle Sparrow: I mean, it would just vary. Like, you know, when you’re in district court and you have misdemeanors, you do a lot, you know, you do them every single day. You do pleas and you do continuances and then they have little trials that take an hour or two hours or whatever. Sometimes they’ll take a couple of days.

And then, uh, when you get to superior court and, you know, start doing more serious cases, those can take a week. And, you know, depending on the severity of it, you’ve got to get really prepared for it, you know, et cetera. So. I don’t know the number. It’s, it’s a whole lot of them, but it’s one of those things when I’ve done my job, I kind of move on,  that’s kind of how I have always done my business, you know, it’s like, okay, we’re done. I’m done.


Ian Garlic: Yep. And, you know, from that side as a prosecutor, you know, before we get into your next story, how did you judge the defense, the defense attorneys? How did you know who was a good one and was it different if you knew they were a former prosecutor?


Michelle Sparrow: It’s important that, you know, who’s who your audience is, right? Like in anything, you know, it’s like, who am I talking to? And how am I talking to them? And you know, how best can I communicate? And yeah. You know, which lawyers trial a lot of cases, you know, which lawyers are effective. You know, things just like in your life. You know a good podcast or whatever marketing guy like you, who’s awesome. And then, you know, then, you know, the ones that are like, yeah, nah, not so awesome. It’s just an instinct thing. And, and knowing and living life and you know, that kind of stuff.


Ian Garlic: Speaking of other mistakes or other funny things that have happened, uh, let’s talk about your 10 pounds of not marijuana.

10 Pounds of… Marijuana?

Michelle Sparrow: Yeah. So another good story. I learned a very valuable lesson after this one. You always look at the evidence before trial, always, always. So this guy was, uh, he picked up what would have been over 10 pounds of marijuana, which in North Carolina is trafficking amount and can get you active time.

Um, he had it sent to one of our, uh, FedEx or someplace like that and a dog alerted on it. They opened it up and there was all this marijuana in there. So what they’re supposed to do is repackage it and put it back in there and then deliver it. And then while voila guy’s in possession of a bunch of marijuana and he gets arrested.


So he came in. He got the package. He got arrested. He got out on bond. We’re in, at jury trial a year or so later. And I just assumed that there would be marijuana in this box that I handed to the lab guy who was to open the box and say, “Yes, it is marijuana. And I tested it, et cetera.” When he opened the box in front of the jury, uh, there was phone books in it and there was… socks. So that was in the box. 


Yeah and to my knowledge, that’s still not a crime. I don’t know, but it’s not a criminal offense to possess find phone books and socks in North Carolina, that I know of.


Ian Garlic: I don’t think it is. I have so many questions. So how did you handle that? Did you just, were you just like, “Okay, this is over.”


Michelle Sparrow: Well, it was, I remember it was late in the day and I looked at judge Stafford. (Um, and I still remember the judge. I loved him.) I looked at him, I was like wide-eyed going, “Uh oh.” And I said, “Can we have a recess?” And I just needed to get it together and figure out what happened here. So it was late in the afternoon. He let him go. And so, I assumed that perhaps they had taken the marijuana out just before he came to trial.


And perhaps they had in fact, you know, had the marijuana in the box at some point when he possessed it. So that’s what I assumed. So I said, “You need to, you know, get the marijuana, test it, let’s figure this out tomorrow.” So the lab guy calls me and he was like, “There is no marijuana.” I was like, “What do you mean?”

He’s like,” Nobody can find it.” And I’m like, “Where…?” So then I called the Sheriff’s department who was the law enforcement agency on the case and apparently it got mishandled or lost, or, you know, we could go into all kinds of conspiracy theories about where it went. 


But it didn’t get back in that box.

So the next morning I showed up in court, I said, “Defense attorney and client, we need to meet in chambers,” and went back there and told the judge. And he was laughing and I took a dismissal. You know, it’s like doing the right thing. That guy got a gift. He was intending on being in possession of marijuana, but if not for the mistakes of law enforcement, he would have been.


So he got a gift and hopefully, he went on to not do that again. 


Ian Garlic: So quick question, did he get the socks and the phone books back?


Michelle Sparrow: Well, actually, I think those were planted by police. 


Ian Garlic: You know, it was like, did he come back? He was like, where are my socks?


Michelle Sparrow: I don’t know what deputy put those socks in there or where they came from. But yeah, it wasn’t an effective way to prosecute somebody. No.


Ian Garlic: All right, and you have one final amazing story, but another drug dealer- 

Green Ninja Turtles in Court

Michelle Sparrow: But another screw-up. This is what happens, you know, sometimes. So this guy was a drug dealer. He had a history of- we couldn’t tell where his income came from. He had a lot of money, have a lot of assets. He was a drug dealer.


And sometime during the course of the trial, I was cross-examining him about all the assets he had, because of course we’re saying, you know, how could you have all these assets when you don’t have any kind of way to make an income? So I was going through them and there was a list, you know, there was houses, there were cars, there were boats, there were, you know, so I was like, “Is it true you own a, you know, 2010, you know, Porsche? Is it true…” And I was just on a roll with a list of assets that he had. 


And that was during the time when those motorcycles, what are they ninja? Is that what they call them? The ninja motorcycles were real popular. And guys like this guy, you know, love to have like the latest, coolest motorcycle.

So that was the last asset on the list. And so I was on a roll and I was like, “Isn’t it true you own this? Isn’t true you on that?” I was like, and “Isn’t it true that you own a 2010 green ninja turtle?” And the moment the word turtle came out, I was like, “Whoops,” but I guess I was into the cartoons at that time.


I don’t know how that came out of my mouth. It got a big laugh, including him. He was dying, laughing on the stand.


Ian Garlic: So did he, did he admit to owning the turtle?


Michelle Sparrow: He did admit to owning that turtle, he did.


Ian Garlic: And what, what was the outcome of that case?


Michelle Sparrow: He got convicted. Yeah. He had a good sense of humor about it. 


Ian Garlic: You’re the criminal’s favorite prosecutor. It’s like, “You’re going to go to jail, but you’re going to love me for going to jail. You’re going to send me flowers. I’m going to make you laugh.”


Michelle Sparrow: You got to enjoy your job, right? Yeah. And you don’t have to be ugly to get your job done. Right? You don’t have to like act ugly and you know, you don’t have to browbeat people. You can do your job effectively without all that. 


Ian Garlic: That’s a great point. I think that is a great point. It’s like, you can still be fair. You can still be effective. Cause it’s about the law and it’s not about being mean to a person that’s already in a bad place. That’s not your job as a prosecutor, is it?


Michelle Sparrow: It’s not. I found that a lot of people do go into court and they just- it’s not a good experience. You know, you can look at Google reviews of the courthouse. It’s just not a good experience. And you know, it’s intimidating. It’s scary. And so I try to treat people like I would, you know, that’s how I am anyway. I’m going to treat you like I would want to be treated. So whether I’m on the prosecution side or defense side, but I’m also going to be zealous. So, um, sometimes that comes off and people think maybe I’m a bitch, but I’m doing my job, you know. I want to do it effectively, but I also want to do it respectfully.


Um, and when I was a prosecutor, I just saw the, you know, the way people- You know a lot of people that come to the court. It’s not something… they’re not there because they’re a horrible person and they’ll never be anything. And you know, that’s not the majority of people. They have some issues and they can get it, get it straight, you know, so they deserve to be treated with respect.


Ian Garlic: And I agree. I agree. And you know, obviously, you’re doing good work now. A lot of people think defense attorneys are defending bad people. You know, I’ve worked with a lot of defense attorneys, but most of the stories are people that, you know, maybe did something wrong. But there’s a lot of stories of people that did nothing wrong and, you know, and like you said, there’s a chance for them to turn it around and it’s great that you’re doing it and doing it well.


And with some humor.


Michelle Sparrow: Always have a sense of humor. Always.


Ian Garlic: Always, always right? Life’s too short, not to. Well, Michelle, this has been so much fun. Thank you for being on True Law Stories. 


And if you all want to talk to Michelle, if you know someone that’s in trouble, if you’re in trouble, you know, and also I know if you’ve been in trouble and need to get a record expunged, Michelle does that too in North Carolina.


So make sure to check her out at sparrowlawfirm.com or criminallawwilmington.com. We’ll have both of the links in the show notes. 


And, you know, click down below, talk to her any time. 


Any last words, Michelle?


Michelle Sparrow: Be Kind. People be kind.


Ian Garlic: Yep. Be kind. That’s an amazing, amazing phrase.


So thank you all for joining us on True Law Stories. This has been Ian Garlic and Michelle Sparrow of the Sparrow Law Firm.