Introduction to the Appeals Process in North Carolina

What is the function of the appeals courts?

In North Carolina, parties to a lawsuit may request the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and, in limited instances, the North Carolina Supreme Court to review decisions made by a judge at the trial level. In order to maintain an appeal of an adverse decision made by the trial court, an appellant must have grounds for an appeal. This means that there must be either factual or legal mistakes made by the trial court. There are numerous types of cases where an appeal is a possibility following trial. Anything from criminal convictions to custody matters may be appealed and reviewed by judges at the Court of Appeals.

When should a case be considered for appeal?

This means that the trial court, in its ruling may have misunderstood the facts of the case based on the testimony or evidence introduced at trial, or the facts that the judge used to make his or her decisions were incorrect or misconstrued. For example, the court generally states in the order its “Findings of Fact.” These are the facts that the judge considers when making the ruling. All facts must be supported either by testimony from witnesses or evidence introduced at trial. If the judge bases the ruling on a factual matter that was not supported by the testimony or evidence at trial, there may be grounds for appeal as the trial court’s ruling must be supported by the findings of fact.

On the other hand, the judge may have made a ruling based on a misapplication of the law or an incorrect understanding of North Carolina statutes. Sometimes the court makes rulings that fly in the face of established case law, called precedent, or of the state statutes. If the judge makes a ruling contrary to the established law, there may be grounds to appeal the decision made by the court.

Other grounds for appeal include errors in the judge’s rulings regarding the admissibility of evidence and testimony allowed at trial. During a trial, the judge often rules on whether to admit or deny certain evidence and whether to allow certain testimony. If the judge’s ruling on these evidentiary matters is objected to at the trial court and the judge’s decision was not supported by case law or the rules of evidence and that ruling affected the outcome of the trial, you may be able to appeal the trial court’s decision.

What happens after an appeal has been filed?

Following a party’s decision to file an appeal after the trial court’s ruling, they must file a notice of appeal with the trial court and serve the notice of appeal on the other party involved in the case. Once the notice of appeal has been filed, the case is then transferred to the Court of Appeals.

The court of appeals will generally review the testimony from trial, the exhibits admitted into evidence, and the parties’ appellate briefs. The appellate briefs are the principal way for parties to argue their case in front of the court of appeals. Generally, the matter will not be re-litigated in front of the Court of Appeals, but the appellate judges will review the alleged errors made at the trial court level.

The briefs are used to cite case law and statutes that support the arguments about why there was or was not an error made during the trial or in the trial court’s order following trial. The briefs usually give a summary of the factual circumstances of the case, arguments about the errors made at the trial level, as well as laws and previously decided cases which support their position. The appellate judges carefully review these briefs when making their rulings.

What actions can the Court of Appeals take?

Following an appeal, there are numerous remedies the Court of Appeals may make. They may order a new trial if they deem that the appeal has merit. They may also reverse the decision of the trial court.

The North Carolina Rules of Appellate procedure are very detailed, and often times confusing for those without prior experience handling appeals. There are very strict deadlines and rules regarding just about every aspect of the appeal, from deadlines to file the Notice of Appeal, to format and word limits of the briefs submitted to the Court of Appeals. Should you have questions regarding a possible appeal of your case, the experienced attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC would be happy to meet with you to review your case and give an experienced opinion on your options regarding an appeal. Click here to contact us and schedule a consultation now.