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 the rules for a number of reasons. In jurisdictions with heavy caseloads and high volumes of post-conviction motions, judges reported difficulty complying with the new timelines. Also, the new rules didn’t account for common scenarios that might require action other than that specified in the statute, such as when a defendant files a pro se motion for appropriate that raises a colorable issue. In that scenario it may make sense for the trial judge to appoint counsel and have counsel file an amended motion before requiring the State to respond or holding a hearing. By handling the motion this way, all relevant issues are flagged on the front end and the case is handled more efficiently. Perhaps most significantly, the new rules effectively gave court date priority to post-conviction challenges by convicted defendants over just about every other matter before the trial court, including capital cases, serious felony trials, and complex civil cases with special 2.1 designation. Of course, the new timelines didn’t have a lot of teeth, G.S. 15A-1420(b2) (“failure to meet a deadline under this subsection is not a ground for the summary granting of a motion for appropriate relief or other summary relief, including without limitation, ordering the release of the prisoner”), so it wasn’t clear what they actually accomplished anyway.
I don’t know the details of how it happened but the rules are gone. Stuck into Session Law 2013-385, a bill dealing with a host of other criminal matters, was a total repeal of those tight timelines for the judge’s action on non-capital motions for appropriate relief.
So where does that leave us? First, the repeal of the timelines is effective December 1, 2013 and applies to “motions filed on or after that date.” After the effective date, the only statutory requirement as to processing of motions for appropriate relief is in G.S. 15A-1420(b1). That subsection provides that when the motion is filed, the clerk is to place the motion on the criminal docket and “promptly” bring it to the attention of the senior resident superior court judge or chief district court judge for assignment. The assigned trial judge then presumably will decide:
- whether the motion is frivolous and should be dismissed on that basis;
- if the motion challenges a plea, whether a verbatim transcript of the plea proceeding is required;
- whether the defendant should be appointed counsel;
- whether counsel should file an amended motion;
- when the State should respond; and
- whether a hearing (on questions of law or fact) should be held.
But as indicated, the timelines for action are now gone. If you have thoughts on their merits or on the merits of their repeal, please share them.