No More Appeals for Infractions?

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S 182 is on the Governor’s desk. It is entitled in part “An Act to Eliminate Appeals for Infractions.” The bill also does some other things, but the focus of this post is on the potentially significant change in the way that infractions are processed.

Current law. Under current G.S. 15A-1115, “[a] person who denies responsibility and is found responsible for an infraction in the district court, within 10 days of the hearing, may appeal the decision to the criminal division of the superior court for a hearing de novo.” The trial de novo is a jury trial unless the defendant agrees to a bench trial, and a finding of responsibility may be appealed to the appellate division.

Changes under the bill. S 182 would amend G.S. 15A-1115 to remove virtually all references to appeals of infractions. Because “[a] defendant’s right to appeal a conviction is purely statutory,” State v. Santos, 210 N.C. App. 448 (2011), this appears to accomplish the intended goal of extinguishing the right to appeal infractions. (Infractions that are originally disposed of in superior court, such as infractions that are lesser included offenses of crimes within the superior court’s jurisdiction, may still be appealed to the appellate division.)

Significance of the changes. According to data published here by the Administrative Office of the Courts, there are approximately 600,000 infraction cases each year. The data don’t reveal how many are appealed to superior court, so I would be interested in readers’ perspectives on the practical significance of the change. I imagine that one of the purposes of the bill is to streamline procedures and save money, so the frequency of appeals is an important matter. The bill doesn’t have a fiscal note or any other analysis that I could find that addresses that issue.

Other states. Although there is no federal constitutional jury trial right for “petty offenses,” Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66 (1970), some state constitutions guarantee the right to a jury trial for infractions. See, e.g., Cunningham v. State, 835 N.E.2d 1075 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005); Riemers v. Elsinger, 781 N.W.2d 632 (N.D. 2010) (certain infractions). Other states provide jury trials as a matter of statute, as North Carolina historically has done, while others do not provide jury trials for infractions. See, e.g., Cal. Penal Code § 19.6 (“A person charged with an infraction shall not be entitled to a trial by jury.”); Alaska Stat. § 28.90.010 (“[N]or does a person cited with an infraction have a right to trial by jury.”).

3 comments on “No More Appeals for Infractions?

  1. Article IV, Section 12(1) of the NC Constitution: “The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction to review upon appeal any decision of the courts below, upon any matter of law or legal inference.” Does this not apply to infractions, irrespective of S182? Granted, the likelihood that the NC Supreme Court would actually accept an appeal of an infraction raising a matter of law seems infinitesimal, but I suppose it could happen — whether the NCGA wants it to, or not.

  2. A good clear definition or explanation of just what are ‘infractions’ seems to be in order. My uneducated understanding is that a person charged with an infraction is being charged with ‘violating a Administrative regulation’ (Executive Agency Policy), authorized by statute. They (infractions) are not violations of the State’s criminal laws (See NCGS CH 14). A violation of a Executive Agencies regulation (infraction) can carry both civil and criminal penalties.

    These matters are not being heard in the State’s Civil or Criminal Courts (See NC State Constitution (NCSC) Art 4 Sec 2) where the person being charged has rights and remedies secured (See NCSC Art 1) by the State and US Constitution (US Constitution Amendments 1-10-14).

    They (infractions) are Administrative actions being heard in the Administrative courts created by legislation authorized by NCSC Art. 4 Sec 3, wherein persons have no rights secured by any law, other than the ability afforded by statute to appeal them to a Art 4 Sec 2 (Civil/Criminal) court where the do have rights secured by the fundamental laws of the land including Trial By Jury, Due Process, Speedy Trial, ETC.

    I am sure that a large % of the State’s Executive and Legislative persons would like very much to illuminate the protections of the citizens rights, and allow their Executive agents in the Law enforcement community to go completely unchallenged in a Civil or Criminal Court (See Art 4 Sec 2 NCSC).

    It would be far less expensive for them (State’s Agents) to have to prove their claims beyond any reasonable doubt, and a great means to swell the State’s coffers which seems to be their (Large % of State Agents) only concern. It assures their security, pay raises, better health care, retirement ETC.

    So if you will Mr. Welty please explain just what is an infraction to this undereducated peasant and member of the working class of stiffs.

    • Yes. That’s why they did this.
      It IS administrative in nature ,of course.
      Ncgs says an infraction is”a noncriminal violation…”.
      If its not criminal, it is civil or administrative.
      Oh,the scams they’ll try.

      The right to appeal is still there, just removed from statute.

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