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Heather Rattelade

Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina
Phone: 910-488-5050
Fax: 910-339-4373

In 1998, while working at an intellectual property law firm, Heather Rattelade began providing assistance to attorneys assigned to capital cases in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. She was added to North Carolina Capital Defender’s Mitigation Specialist Roster in 2002 and began assisting capital defense teams, conducting intensive investigations into psycho-social history of the accused and assisting defense counsel in developing comprehensive and cohesive trial strategies for using that information to secure life verdicts.

Rattelade continued to assist capital defense teams as a mitigation specialist when she began law school at North Carolina Central University in 2005, but also began providing assistance as a law clerk.  She conducted research on many legal issues, drafted pretrial motions, assisted with all aspects of pretrial investigations, assisted in two capital trials, and assisted in negotiating life-saving pleas.  After her second year of law school, Rattelade interned as a capital habeas law clerk for the Honorable Joseph A. Greenaway, Jr., who was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on Feb.12, 2010, but previously served as a jurist on United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Rattelade began her career in 2008 as an Associate in the Law Offices of Bruce T. Cunningham, Jr. Rattelade founded her own firm in 2010, to represent the rights of the people.  Her practice focused on fighting for individuals’ civil rights.  She decided to join The Richardson Firm in 2017 because our philosophy is closely aligned with her mission to protect and promote vital constitutional and civil rights that lie at the heart of a free and democratic society.


Rattelade has taught other lawyers about State post-conviction advocacy at Duke University School of Law and various local criminal defense bars.  She has also lectured law students and legal professionals about post-conviction investigations and flawed forensics at Duke Law School, Campbell Law School and North Carolina Central Law.


Since 2012, Rattelade has dedicated more than 1500 hours of pro bono legal assistance to the N.C. State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, North Carolina Attorneys for Science and Technology, Durham County Chapter of the NAACP, and Mothers of Durham, advocating for fairness in criminal proceedings, racial equality, economic equality, non-violent conflict resolution and social justice.


  • Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
  • Capital Defense
  • Criminal Defense (State and Federal)
  • Criminal Appeals
  • Criminal Post-Conviction
  • White Collar Defense
  • § 2255 Petition for Habeas Relief by federal prisoners
  • § 2254 Petition for Habeas Relief by State prisoners


  • North Carolina, 2008
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • United States District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina
  • United States District Court, Middle District of North Carolina


Bruce T. Cunningham Jr., Heather L. Rattelade & Amanda Zimmer, Apprendi/Blakely: A Primer for Practitioners, 30 N.C. Cent. L. Rev. 1 (2007)
In Apprendi v. New Jersey and Blakely v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court declared it is the exclusive role of a jury to determine all facts necessary to convict a defendant of a particular crime. The implications of Apprendi/Blakely on North Carolina’s Structured Sentencing Act (SSA), suggesting that the SSA as we know it cannot withstand the full impact of the Supreme Court’s current view of the jury trial right.
Bruce T. Cunningham Jr., Heather L. Rattelade & Amanda Zimmer, Ring v. Arizona and Capital Proceedings: Brave New World or a Reversion to the Old World?, 30 N.C. Cent. L. Rev. 107 (2008).

In Ring v. Arizona, the Court extended Apprendi’s bedrock Sixth Amendment principles to the context of capital punishment. Ring’s extension of the Apprendi principle will revolutionize the way capital cases are tried in North Carolina to the benefit of persons charged with capital crimes. Developments in death penalty jurisprudence, beginning with the Eighth Amendment challenge in Furman and ending with the Sixth Amendment challenge in Ring, establish that Capital Murder or Aggravated First Degree Murder is a crime which is separate from and greater than First Degree Murder or Murder Simpliciter.

In order to understand Ring‘s impact on capital litigation, the case must be viewed not as a foray into the uncharted territory of a constitutional role for juries in sentencing; rather, as a return to the understanding of the jury’s role at the time of the founding fathers, which was simply to determine whether a defendant committed a particular crime or not.


  • North Carolina State Bar, Member, 2008 – Present
  • Durham County Bar, 14th Judicial District, 2011 – Present

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