Appellate Practice: North Carolina’s Appellate Courts
North Carolina has two appellate courts.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals is the State’s intermediate appellate court. The Court of Appeals consists of fifteen judges that hear cases in panels of three. The Court of Appeals reviews a case for errors of law or legal procedure and decides only questions of law, not questions of fact. The vast majority of civil and criminal cases appealed from North Carolina Superior and District courts are considered first by the Court of Appeals. Though some cases are decided on the appellate briefs alone, many cases are scheduled for an “oral argument,” which is a structured and timed discussion between the appellate lawyers and the panel of judges.
The North Carolina Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in the state, and parties have no further appeal from its decision on issues involving state law. It consists of the Chief Justice and six associate justices, who are elected statewide to serve eight-year terms. Unlike the Court of Appeals, the justices sit “en banc” (“on the bench”) meaning that all the justices sit together to hear the case, rather than in panels. Ordinarily, a litigant who loses at the Court of Appeals will file a “petition for discretionary review,” asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the case and stating the basis for review. Unlike an appeal to the Court of Appeals, appeals to the Supreme Court are largely discretionary. This means that a party does not have a right to have the Supreme Court review the case, but the Court has chosen to hear the case because the case presents an important legal question or involves a matter of public concern.