This post summarizes published criminal opinions by the North Carolina Court of Appeals released on October 6, 2020.
While we wait to see what the North Carolina Supreme Court has to say in State v. Turner about the existing statute of limitations for misdemeanors, the General Assembly has amended G.S. 15-1 for future prosecutions.
The court of appeals held last month in State v. Turner, __ N.C. App. __, 793 S.E.2d 287 (2016), temp. stay allowed, __ N.C. __ (2016), that the issuance of a magistrate’s order charging a defendant with driving while impaired did not toll the two-year statute of limitations applicable to misdemeanors. The court reasoned that the provision setting forth the statute of limitations, G.S. 15-1, was explicit in requiring that an indictment or presentment be issued within two years. The court said that only one extension of this rule had been recognized: Pursuant to State v. Underwood, 244 N.C. 68 (1956), a defendant may be tried upon a misdemeanor charged by a warrant within two years of the offense. Because Turner was not charged by presentment, indictment or warrant and the State failed to “commence the prosecution of its case” within two years of the offense, the court of appeals ruled that the trial court properly dismissed the charges.
Last month’s blog commentary included a lively dispute about whether trial courts are bound to follow Turner given the state supreme court’s issuance of a stay. Regardless of whether Turner is binding precedent (and I don’t think it yet is, given the stay), trial courts may rely on its reasoning. Moreover, the state supreme court may ultimately decline to review the opinion or, if it does grant review, may affirm its holding. Thus, prosecutors across the state are considering whether and how the State may satisfy or toll the statute of limitations for misdemeanors charged by citation or magistrate’s order.
There are at least four categories of such misdemeanors, and the implications for each are discussed below.
The court of appeals held yesterday in State v. Turner, __ N.C. App. ___ (2016), that the issuance of a magistrate’s order charging a defendant with driving while impaired did not toll the two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors. Because the defendant was not tried within two years of the offense, the appellate court ruled that the trial court properly dismissed the charges. This opinion is as big as surprise to criminal procedure experts as the outcome of last month’s presidential election was to pollsters. Does it mean that district courts must dismiss charges for misdemeanor offenses that occurred more than two years ago?