When is a Procedural Bar Not a Procedural Bar? MARs, Gatekeeper Orders, and the Procedural Bar

We get a lot of questions about motions for appropriate relief (“MARs”). Post-conviction can be a daunting area for practitioners and judges alike. On the state and federal levels, the procedural issues alone can feel like a maze. A recent(ish) case from the Court of Appeals, State v. Blake, ___ N.C. App. ___, 853 S.E.2d 838 (Dec. 31, 2020), shines some light on aspects of the procedural bar in state post-conviction proceedings and is the subject of today’s post.

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Remember Those Timelines for Non-Capital Motions for Appropriate Relief?

 They are gone. In a blog post here I wrote about 2012 North Carolina legislation imposing tight new timelines for judges handling post-conviction motions for appropriate relief. When I had to tell the judges about those new rules at last year’s judges’ conference, I was tempted to bring a riot shield. Folks were upset about … Read more


NC Court Takes a Restrictive View of “Significant Change in the Law” MARs

In a bulletin here I wrote about NC’s procedure for post-conviction motions for appropriate relief (MARs). Among other things, that bulletin explains the types of claims that can be raised in a MAR. One of those claims is that “[t]here has been a significant change in law, either substantive or procedural, applied in the proceedings … Read more


Claims That Survive an Unconditional Guilty Plea

A lot of defendants plead guilty. And many of those defendants later try to challenge their pleas through the post-conviction process. Not surprisingly then, I get a lot of questions about what types of claims can be asserted in a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) challenging an unconditional guilty plea. As a general rule, a … Read more


Tight New Timelines for Motions for Appropriate Relief

In 2012, the N.C. General Assembly enacted new case processing rules for motions for appropriate relief. See S.L. 2012-168. The new rules put the judges on a pretty tight leash in terms of ruling on these motions. Here’s a visual of how they operate: Footnotes: 1. G.S. 15A-1420(b1)(2); see also G.S. 15A-1413(d). 2. G.S. 15A-1420(b2)(1). … Read more


A Defense Win on a Newly Discovered Evidence Claim

I’m guessing that the criminal defense bar thinks that they have more strikes than hits in post-conviction proceedings. But a recent Court of Appeals case reminds us that it is possible to score on a motion for appropriate relief (MAR). In State v. Rhodes, the court affirmed a trial court ruling ordering a new trial … Read more

Can the State Obtain Appellate Review of a Judge’s Order Granting a Defendant’s MAR?

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently whether the state can obtain appellate review of a judge’s order granting a defendant’s motion for appropriate relief, or MAR. The questions have come up in the context of superior court proceedings, so that’s what this post will address. The answer might be different for district court … Read more


Motions for Appropriate Relief and Procedural Default

As noted in an earlier post, I get asked a lot of questions about motions for appropriate relief (MARs). One procedural issue that causes some confusion is procedural default. The MAR statute provides that in order for a court to reach the merits of a defendant’s MAR, the defendant must satisfy certain procedural rules. If … Read more