State v. Matthews, ___ N.C. App. ___, 832 S.E.2d 261 (Aug. 6, 2019)

In this probation revocation case that was appealed by a petition for writ of certiorari, the court held that the defendant failed to demonstrate error with respect to the district court’s exercise of subject matter jurisdiction to revoke her probation.  On May 5, 2017, the defendant was placed on 12 months of supervised probation pursuant to a conditional discharge plea agreement related to a felony drug charge.  On March 4, 2018, the defendant’s probation officer filed a violation report asserting that she had only completed a small fraction of her court-ordered community service hours and had not yet paid in full her court costs and supervised probation fee.  At a May 4, 2018, hearing on the violation report, which resulted in the trial court finding a willful violation of probation and entering judgment on the felony drug charge, the defendant did not object to the district court’s jurisdiction and fully participated in the hearing.

The court first addressed its appellate jurisdiction, noting that the defendant’s various attempts to appeal the judgment did not comply with the Rules of Appellate Procedure but deciding to use its discretion to allow the defendant’s petition for writ of certiorari, in part because the issue of the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction to revoke her probation was one of first impression.  The court then turned to the merits, first explaining that under G.S. 7A-271(e) “the superior court generally exercises exclusive jurisdiction over probation revocation hearings even when the underlying felony conviction and probationary sentence were imposed through a guilty plea in district court.”  The court went on to explain that notwithstanding the statute’s general rule, it further provides as an exception that the district court has jurisdiction over probation revocation hearings when the State and the defendant, using the statute’s term, “consent” to the district court’s jurisdiction.  Noting that the term “consent” is not defined in the statute and has not been construed in this context by a North Carolina appellate court, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that it was necessary that her “express consent” appear in the record.  Instead, the court held that the term encompasses implied consent and that the defendant’s conduct in this case – fully participating in the hearing without objection and even going so far as to request additional relief from the court during the hearing – constitutes implied consent.