Charging the Felony After a Misdemeanor Appeal

This question has come up more than once around here lately, so I thought it would be worth summarizing in a blog post.

The defendant is in district court charged with a routine misdemeanor (e.g., larceny, assault, or DWI). The state has additional evidence that would support pursuing a related felony charge instead (e.g., new information about the value of the stolen property, the severity of the injuries inflicted in the assault, or the defendant’s multiple prior convictions for DWI). The prosecutor and the defense attorney talk it over, and they reach a deal: the state will not bring the higher felony charge, but only if the defendant pleads guilty to the misdemeanor – right now, as charged, take it or leave it.

The defendant agrees and enters a guilty plea. Then, a few days later, the defendant gives notice of appeal to superior court for trial de novo on the misdemeanor. May the state now prosecute the felony charge in superior court?

This post walks through the legal arguments for and against it, and then offers a few suggestions on how the state can avoid getting caught in this trap in the first place, including one option whose persistent absence from North Carolina criminal practice really puzzles me: a basic appeal waiver.

Read more