Affirm . . . reverse . . . those are the words that usually appear at the end of an appellate opinion. But last week, the Supreme Court of North Carolina reminded us that it has broad power when it decides cases.
State v. Hammonds was a criminal case in which the defendant moved to suppress statements made to police detectives while he was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The issue on appeal was whether the defendant was in custody for Miranda purposes. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in a divided opinion. The Supreme Court did not decide the case on the merits. Rather, in a move akin to what the U.S. Supreme Court recently did in Zubik v. Burwell, the Court vacated the trial court order and certified the case to the trial court for a new hearing on the motion to suppress to consider an aspect of the test that was not ruled on. After a decision is reached, the case will go directly back to the Supreme Court for supplemental briefing.
As we’ve blogged about before, the Supreme Court has broad authority. And while unusual, it is not unheard of for the Court to craft a remedy that is not specifically recognized by the appellate rules. After all, the Court is the one with the power to change the appellate rules. So what is the basis for this authority? Well, for one thing, the State Constitution provides:
The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction to review upon appeal any decision of the courts below, upon any matter of law or legal inference. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over “issues of fact” and “questions of fact” shall be the same exercised by it prior to the adoption of this Article, and the Court may issue any remedial writs necessary to give it general supervision and control over the proceedings of the other courts.
Unlike the Court of Appeals, for which jurisdiction is constitutionally limited to what the General Assembly prescribes, the Supreme Court has its own inherent authority.
In the normal case, you will likely be asking the Court to affirm or reverse (or simply to hear your case). But don’t be afraid to ask our Supreme Court for something creative if the situation calls for it.