State v. Knight, 245 N.C. App. 532 (Feb. 16, 2016)

modified and affirmed on other grounds, 369 N.C. 640 (Jun. 9, 2017)

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that on a second trial after a mistrial the second trial judge was bound by the first trial judge’s suppression ruling under the doctrine of law of the case. The court concluded that doctrine only applies to an appellate ruling. However, the court noted that another version of the doctrine provides that when a party fails to appeal from the tribunal’s decision that is not interlocutory, the decision below becomes law of the case and cannot be challenged in subsequent proceedings in the same case. However, the court held that this version of the doctrine did not apply here because the suppression ruling was entered during the first trial and thus the State had no right to appeal it. Moreover, when a defendant is retried after a mistrial, prior evidentiary rulings are not binding. (2) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the second judge’s ruling was improper because one superior court judge cannot overrule another, noting that once a mistrial was declared, the first trial court’s ruling no longer had any legal effect. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that collateral estoppel barred the State from relitigating the suppression issue, noting that doctrine applies only to an issue of ultimate fact determined by a final judgment.