Appealing a Criminal Conviction in North Carolina

Have you been convicted of a crime? If so, you may have the right to appeal your criminal conviction in North Carolina. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC we have helped many clients appeal their criminal convictions. We guide our clients through the complex North Carolina appeal process. Depending on the facts of your case, you may have grounds for a criminal appeal. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to schedule a case evaluation.

What is a Criminal Court Appeal?

A criminal appeal in and of itself is not a new trial. Appeals are typically focused on challenging the mistakes made by the trial court judge. During the appellate process, your lawyer will help you persuade a higher court that the judge made a serious mistake in your trial that substantially affected the outcome. In deciding how to rule on your appeal, the judge is limited to examining evidence “within the record” of the previous trial. This means the court can look to the trial transcripts (if any), motions that were filed and exhibits that were entered at trial, but not any evidence outside of that record. Your lawyer will argue that the judge made such a serious mistake that you are entitled to another outcome.

You also have the right to appeal even if you pled guilty in the trial court.

North Carolina Appeals Courts

In understanding which court would hear your appeal, just know that it will typically go to the court that is immediately above the trial court. The hierarchy of courts in North Carolina is as follows:

  1. District Court—trial for misdemeanors (if unattached to any felony charges)
  2. Superior Court—trial for felonies
  3. North Carolina Court of Appeals—hears appeals of Superior Court felony convictions and/or sentences. Also, if you appeal a misdemeanor conviction to Superior Court and the judge rules against you, you can appeal that decision to the Court of Appeals. A panel of three judges decide cases in the Court of Appeals.
  4. North Carolina Supreme Court—capital cases, or cases in which a person is sentenced to death for first-degree murder, bypass the Court of Appeals and go straight to the state Supreme Court. These are heard by all seven Supreme Court justices. Appeals of the Court of Appeals’ decisions also go to the Supreme Court.
Grounds for North Carolina Appeals

Trial court judges have lots of discretion in making decisions when it comes to criminal law. Examples of grounds to appeal a criminal conviction can include when a trial court judge:

  • Bases a ruling on a factual matter not supported by the evidence submitted during the trial
  • Misapplies the law. An example of this would be if, contrary to law, the judge rules that certain beneficial evidence is inadmissible for the defendant, or detrimental evidence is admissible for the prosecution
  • Fails to apply the proper legal precedent
Preserving Your Right to Appeal After a Criminal Trial

In many cases, trial lawyers need to object to errors during trial as they are occurring, in order to preserve that issue for appeal. For example, if the judge lets evidence against you come in at trial that should not have and you are convicted, it will be far easier for you to succeed on appeal if your attorney objected to that evidence coming in at trial.

You also have to give the trial court notice of appeal within 14 days after the judge sentences you. You can do this orally in open court, or file a notice of appeal in writing within that 14-day period.

The Criminal Appeal Process in North Carolina

After you give notice of appeal, the next step is to request the transcript of the trial from the court reporter. The one exception to this is in misdemeanor appeals from District Court, which does not record its proceedings. In non-capital cases, the court reporter has 60 days to get the transcript together. In capital cases, the reporter has 120 days. Courts can grant extensions of this deadline, which are often 30 days.

After the appeals lawyer has a copy of the transcript, there is a separate process called preparing the Record on Appeal, which explains the potential legal errors that kept the defendant from receiving a fair trial or sentence. Preparing, and getting the prosecution to agree to, the Record on Appeal has its own deadlines and requirements. After the parties have agreed on the Record on Appeal (or the judge settles it if the parties cannot agree on it), the appeals lawyer will file a Brief explaining the legal arguments you are pursuing. The appellate prosecutor will have an opportunity to file a Response Brief, and eventually the appeal comes before the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals three-judge panel assigned to your case may give notice that it wishes for the parties to appear for oral argument, where attorneys for both sides appear to argue their case and answer questions posed by the panel. However, sometimes the panel simply rules on cases without oral argument. This means it is imperative to have an experienced attorney submit as strong a brief as possible—because it may be the only chance you have to explain your position.

When the Court of Appeals deems it necessary, they will rule in favor of the defendant and offer appropriate relief. The Court of Appeals can issue an order for a new trial, a new sentencing, or reverse the trial court’s decision.

Contact Our Charlotte Criminal Appeal Lawyers Today

The criminal appeal process is extremely complex and comes with strict procedural deadlines. Because you can lose your right to appeal if you do not adhere to these deadlines, having an appellate lawyer is extremely important. Have you or a loved one been convicted of a crime in North Carolina? Are you wondering whether you might qualify for an appeal? If so, our criminal appeal lawyers can help. Contact us today to schedule your case evaluation.