State v. Jones, 371 N.C. 548 (Oct. 26, 2018)

On appeal from a decision of a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 805 S.E.2d 701 (2017), the court affirmed, holding that the citation charging the offense in question was legally sufficient to properly invoke the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction. The defendant was cited for speeding and charged with operating a motor vehicle when having an open container of alcohol while alcohol remained in his system. With respect to the open container charge, the citation stated that the defendant “did unlawfully and willfully WITH AN OPEN CONTAINER OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE AFTER DRINKING (G.S. 20-138.7(A))[.]” The defendant moved to dismiss the open container charge on grounds that the citation was fatally defective. The District Court denied the motion and found the defendant guilty of both offenses. The defendant appealed to Superior Court and a jury found him guilty of the open container offense. Before the Court of Appeals, the defendant argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to try him for the open container offense because the citation failed to allege all of the essential elements of the crime. The Court of Appeals found no error and the Supreme Court affirmed. Relying in part on the Official Commentary to the statutes, the Supreme Court held that a citation need only identify the crime at issue; it need not provide a more exhaustive statement of the crime as is required for other criminal pleadings. If the defendant had concerns about the level of detail contained in the citation, G.S. 15A-922(c) expressly allowed him to move that the offense be charged in a new pleading. The court further determined that because the defendant did not move in District Court to have the State charge him in a new pleading while the matter was pending in the court of original jurisdiction, the defendant was precluded from challenging the citation in another tribunal on those grounds. The court concluded: “A citation that identifies the charged offense in compliance with N.C.G.S. § 15A-302(c) sufficiently satisfies the legal requirements applicable to the contents of this category of criminal pleadings and establishes the exercise of the trial court’s jurisdiction. Under the facts and circumstances of the present case, the citation at issue included sufficient criminal pleading contents in order to properly charge defendant with the misdemeanor offense for which he was found guilty, and the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction to enter judgment in this criminal proceeding.”