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How Does the North Carolina Court of Appeals Work?

In North Carolina, the Court of Appeals is the only intermediate appellate court. Its primary function is to relieve the Supreme Court’s caseload; consequently, the Court of Appeals hears cases that pertain to questions of law. Similar to the North Carolina Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals reviews lower courts’ decisions and judgments. Since the court reviews cases that lower courts have heard, the Court of Appeals does not accept witness testimonies or admit any new evidence.

In addition to appeal cases, the North Carolina Court of Appeals also hears motions and petitions. While some of the motions and petitions may result in an appeal case, the court disposes of the others.

The court also reviews cases heard before an administrative law judge or a government agency. The Court of Appeals considers whether there were errors in the interpretation and application of the law and legal proceedings in the state’s trial courts. The Court of Appeals also considers whether there were any errors caused by prejudice in a trial process.

Typically, most criminal and civil cases tried in North Carolina’s trial courts appeal to the Court of Appeals. However, capital murder cases involving the death penalty may be appealed directly to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Whenever the members of a Court of Appeals panel disagree on a decision, the matter may be appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. However, acceptance of the case is at the discretion of the apex court.

There are 15 judges in the Court of Appeals, including the Chief Judge. The Judges sit in three-person panels to hear cases. Each of the five panels receives random case assignments. The panels are not stagnant; members have the opportunity to serve with other members in panel rotations. The North Carolina Court of Appeals hears new cases every two weeks, with each panel of judges hearing up to 12 cases at a sitting. Before deciding on a case, a Court of Appeals panel must first review the case briefs and records on appeal, research the law, and in some cases, hear oral arguments from the attorneys representing the parties in the case.

A record on appeal contains the complete history of any case heard in the Courts of Appeal. It includes such information as:

  • Pleadings, evidence, and other papers filed in the course of the case
  • Transcripts of the court proceedings
  • The verdict and judgment of the lower court
  • A copy of the trial records prepared by the Court of Appeals Clerk

Alternatively, attorneys representing parties in a case may present a ‘Statment of the Case’ concerning parts of the original case record.

After a Court of Appeals panel has heard and reviewed a case, one member of the panel prepares an opinion. Each judge is required to write no less than two opinions every week. A Court of Appeals opinion describes the facts of a case and the court’s ruling. Parties involved in a case may appeal a unanimous Court of Appeals’ decision to the Supreme Court. However, the North Carolina Supreme Court will only accept cases in its discretion. If, on the other hand, there is dissent and the Court of Appeals’ decision is not unanimous, the dissenting judge will write a dissent, and the parties in the case will have a right of appeal to the Supreme Court.

Court of Appeals cases may also be heard en banc. En banc means that instead of a three-person panel, all the judges sit to hear the case. En banc reviews are rare and may only happen in cases where:

  • The Court of Appeals judges cast majority votes to give an en banc review.
  • The court’s decision must be uniform.
  • The case involves a fundamental question.

The Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court appoints the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Other judges of the court are elected in statewide, partisan elections and serve for eight years. Judges who wish to continue serving after eight years must participate in re-elections. Candidates for North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge positions must:

  • Be licensed attorneys
  • Be aged 21 or older
  • Be aged less than 72
  • Register to vote
  • Live in North Carolina

A Court of Appeals judge may be removed before retirement if:

  • The North Carolina Supreme Court chooses to follow the Judicial Standards Commission’s recommendation of removal.
  • The judge is mentally or physically incapable of serving.
  • The House of Representatives and the Senate impeach the judge.

Judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals are required to follow the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Court of Appeals provides a library where individuals can find court opinions. The Court of Appeals Clerk is an administrative officer of the court. In some North Carolina courts, the Clerk is also a judge and may hear some cases. The North Carolina Court Clerk is as follows, and is the same address as the Court of Appeals:

North Carolina Court of Appeals

Clerk’s Office

1 West Morgan Street

Raleigh, NC 27601

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