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Relief from a Criminal Conviction

Motions for Appropriate Relief

A motion for appropriate relief (MAR) is a motion made after judgment to correct any errors that occurred before, during, or after a criminal trial or proceeding, including errors related to the entry of a guilty plea.[1] Article 89 of G.S. Chapter 15A (G.S. 15A-1411 through G.S. 15A-1422) addresses MARs. The procedures in Article 89 are detailed and are beyond the scope of this guide. The discussion below briefly reviews the grounds and effect of a successful MAR.

Article 89 provides for two types of MARs. The first is governed by G.S. 15A-1414. Under this statute, a person convicted of a criminal offense may seek relief for any error that occurred before or during trial within 10 days after entry of judgment. Generally, a person would use this type of MAR to bring errors to the attention of the trial judge, who could correct them immediately without the time and expense of an appeal.[2]

The second type of MAR is governed by G.S. 15A-1415 and generally may be filed at any time after judgment.[3] A person may base this type of MAR on the grounds identified in G.S. 15A-1415—for example, that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case or that the conviction was obtained in violation of the state or federal constitution. An assertion that an indictment or other charging document was fatally defective is an example of a jurisdictional claim. Assertions that the defendant did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently enter a guilty plea or waive the right to be represented by counsel are examples of claims of unconstitutional convictions.[4]

Recent amendments to the MAR statutes may have broadened the ability to obtain relief. In S.L. 2012-168 (S 141), the General Assembly amended the statutes to add procedures for assigning MARs to judges and set timelines for hearing MARs. As part of these changes, the General Assembly added G.S. 15A-1420(e), which states: “Nothing in this section shall prevent the parties to the action from entering into an agreement for appropriate relief, including an agreement as to any aspect, procedural or otherwise, of a motion for appropriate relief.” In 2013, the General Assembly repealed the timelines but maintained the other changes. S.L. 2013-385 (S 182). By enacting and retaining G.S. 15A-1420(e), the General Assembly appears to have authorized the court to grant a MAR if the State and defendant consent.[5] In 2013, the General Assembly added an additional ground for vacating a first conviction of a prostitution offense under G.S. 14-204. See supra Expunctions of Other Offenses: Discharge and Dismissal or Conviction of Prostitution Offenses.

G.S. 15A-1417 describes the relief available when a court grants a motion for appropriate relief, including vacating of a conviction. An order vacating a conviction does not necessarily terminate the criminal case; the State may retry the defendant unless, in addition to vacating the conviction, the court enters an order dismissing the charges. An order vacating a conviction does not constitute an expunction; but, if a court or the State dismisses the charges, the person may be able to obtain an expunction under G.S. 15A-146. See supra Expunctions of Dismissals and Similar Dispositions: Dismissal or Finding of Not Guilty of Misdemeanors, Felonies, and Certain Infractions; see also supra Expunctions of Dismissals and Similar Dispositions: DNA Records.



[1] See State v. Handy, 326 N.C. 532 (1990).

[2] See Jessica Smith, Motions for Appropriate Relief, at p. 2, in North Carolina Superior Court Judges’ Benchbook (Jan. 2017).

[3] MARs in capital cases have an outer time limit and must be filed in accordance with the requirements of G.S. 15A-1415(a). MARs based on newly discovered evidence must be filed within a reasonable time of discovery. G.S. 15A-1415(c).

[4] See Jessica Smith, Motions for Appropriate Relief, at pp. 4–5, in North Carolina Superior Court Judges’ Benchbook (Jan. 2017).

[5] Id. at 13 (noting potential impact of change but advising judges to exercise caution in considering “consent” MARs without a specification of grounds).