State v. Larry Lee Dudley, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Apr. 7, 2020)

The defendant was convicted of misdemeanor stalking in district court in Forsyth County and sentenced to time served. The defendant filed a pro se written notice of de novo appeal to superior court on the ninth day after the district court’s judgment. The State moved to dismiss the appeal under G.S. 15A-1431(d). The superior court dismissed the appeal and a petition for writ of certiorari, and the defendant sought certiorari review in the Court of Appeals.

G.S. 15A-1431 proscribes jurisdictional rules governing criminal appeals from district to superior court. A defendant typically has 10 days from the time of judgment to give notice of de novo appeal by filing a written notice of appeal or by giving notice in open court. Under subsection (d), however, once a defendant complies with a district court judgment, notice of appeal must be given by the defendant in person before the presiding judge or certain other officials. According the State, the defendant had complied with the judgment, since he already served the sentence imposed by the district court. His notice of appeal was therefore defective and deprived the superior court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The defendant maintained that his pretrial confinement (leading to the time served judgment) could not serve as voluntary compliance with the judgment within the meaning of the statute. The Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant.

Under the plain language of the statute, “the word ‘compliance’ carries with it a connotation of voluntariness.” Slip op. at 5. Official commentary to the statute also supported this view. In the court’s words:

[The defendant’s] purported ‘compliance’ with his criminal sentence was not his choice. He was involuntarily detained in pre-trial confinement while awaiting trial and was later credited with time served . . . [The defendant] therefore properly gave notice of appeal by doing so in writing within ten days of entry of judgment. Id. at 6.

The superior court’s dismissal of the appeal was therefore unanimously reversed, and the matter remanded for trial in superior court.