State v. Ledbetter, ___ N.C. ___, 814 S.E.2d 39 (Jun. 8, 2018)

On discretionary review of a unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 794 S.E.2d 551 (2016) (per curiam), the court reversed, holding that the absence of a procedural rule limits neither the Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction nor its discretionary authority to issue writs of certiorari. After the defendant was charged with DWI, she filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the State violated certain statutory procedures and State v. Knoll. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant pled guilty, retaining the right to appeal the denial of the motion. The defendant gave notice of appeal and petitioned the Court of Appeals for review by writ of certiorari. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal and denied the petition, holding that the defendant did not have a statutory right to appeal from the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss prior to her guilty plea and that the petition did not assert grounds included in or permitted by Rule 21. The Supreme Court then remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of State v. Stubbs, 368 N.C. 40 (2015), and State v. Thomsen, 369 N.C. 22 (2016). Upon reconsideration, the Court of Appeals again denied the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari and dismissed her appeal. The Court of Appeals determined in part that although the statute provides jurisdiction, it was without a procedural process under either Rule 1 or 21 to issue a discretionary writ other than by invoking Rule 2, and the Court of Appeals declined to invoke that rule. The court determined that the Court of Appeals correctly found that it had jurisdiction to issue the writ. However, it mistakenly concluded that the absence of a specific procedural process in the Rules of Appellate Procedure left the court without any authority to invoke that jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals had held that because the defendant’s petition did not assert any of the procedural grounds set forth in Rule 21, it was without a procedural process to issue the writ other than by invoking Rule 2. The court determined that regardless of whether Rule 21 contemplates review of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, if a valid statute gives the Court of Appeals jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari, Rule 21 cannot take that jurisdiction away. The court concluded:

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals had both the jurisdiction and the discretionary authority to issue defendant’s writ of certiorari. Absent specific statutory language limiting the Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction, the court maintains its jurisdiction and discretionary authority to issue the prerogative writs, including certiorari. Rule 21 does not prevent the Court of Appeals from issuing writs of certiorari or have any bearing upon the decision as to whether a writ of certiorari should be issued.