The Supreme Court of North Carolina is the state’s highest court, and there is no further appeal from its decisions on matters of state law. It comprises the Chief Justice, who also serves as the head of the Judicial Branch, and six associate justices, each serving eight-year terms. The Supreme Court has no jury and makes no determinations of fact, but considers whether error occurred at trial or in judicial interpretation of the law. The Court hears appeals of the decisions from the other divisions of the General Court of Justice, as well as appeals of the decisions of some other state agencies.
Most of the Supreme Court’s cases come from the Court of Appeals. Because the judges of the Court of Appeals sit in panels of three judges for each case, one judge might disagree with the others about the outcome of the case; this is called a “dissent” by the judge who disagrees. If there is a dissent in the opinion of the Court of Appeals, or if the case involves an important question about the constitutions of North Carolina or the United States, then the party who disagrees with the Court of Appeals has a right to have the Supreme Court review the case. Even if there was a unanimous decision in the Court of Appeals, a party can petition the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of that decision, but the court does not have to accept the case.
Some cases go directly to the Supreme Court without passing through the Court of Appeals. A defendant sentenced to death for a conviction of first-degree murder may appeal his conviction or sentence directly to the Supreme Court. The court also hears direct appeals from decisions about utilities rates (prices) from the state Utilities Commission. Finally, in certain cases, the Supreme Court can order that a case bypass the Court of Appeals and be heard directly by the Supreme Court. These cases generally involve legal questions that are important to the public or for which the delay of first hearing the case in the Court of Appeals would result in substantial harm to a party or their interests.
Chief Justice and 6 associate justices
Elected to serve 8-year term
Chief Justice also heads the Judicial Branch
137 appeals docketed (FY 2016 - 17)
92 appeals disposed
509 petitions docketed
515 petitions disposed
910 other proceedings filed
690 other proceedings disposed