State v. Diaz-Tomas, 2022-NCSC-115, ___ N.C. ___ (Nov. 4, 2022)

In this Wake County case, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision denying defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari, and dismissed as improvidently allowed issues related to defendant’s petition for discretionary review and the denial of his petition for writ of mandamus.  

This matter has a complicated procedural history as detailed on pages 4-10 of the slip opinion. Defendant was originally charged with driving while impaired and driving without an operator’s license in April of 2015. Defendant failed to appear at his February 2016 hearing date; an order for arrest was issued and the State dismissed defendant’s charges with leave under G.S. § 15A-932(a)(2). This meant defendant could not apply for or receive a driver’s license from the DMV. Defendant was arrested in July of 2018, and given a new hearing date in November of 2018, but he again failed to appear. In December of 2018, defendant was arrested a second time, and given another new hearing date that same month. However, at the December 2018 hearing, the assistant DA declined reinstate the 2015 charges, leading to defendant filing several motions and petitions to force the district attorney’s office to reinstate his charges and bring them to a hearing. After defendant’s motions were denied by the district court, and his writ for certiorari was denied by the superior court and the Court of Appeals, the matter reached the Supreme Court.  

The court first established the broad discretion of district attorneys, as “[s]ettled principles of statutory construction constrain this Court to hold that the use of the word ‘may’ in N.C.G.S. § 15A-932(d) grants exclusive and discretionary power to the state’s district attorneys to reinstate criminal charges once those charges have been dismissed with leave . . . .” Slip Op. at 13. Due to this broad authority, the court held that district attorneys could not be compelled to reinstate charges. The court next turned to the authority of the trial court, explaining that “despite a trial court’s wide and entrenched authority to govern proceedings before it as the trial court manages various and sundry matters,” no precedent supported permitting the trial court to direct the district attorney in this discretionary area. Id. at 16. Because the district attorney held discretionary authority to reinstate the charges, and the trial court could not interfere with the constitutional and statutory authority of the district attorney, the court affirmed the denial of defendant’s motions for reinstatement and petition for writ of certiorari. 

The court also considered defendant’s various petitions for writ of mandamus, noting they were properly denied under the applicable standard because “[defendant] does not have a right to compel the activation of his charges which have been dismissed with leave or to require the exercise of discretionary authority to fit his demand for prosecutorial action regarding his charges.” Id. at 22.