North Carolina’s Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court for the state. They hear the majority of appeals from the lower courts and administrative agencies. The only appeals that go directly to the Supreme Court are murder cases where the death penalty is on the line. The Court of Appeals does not hold trials; they review previous legal cases to ensure no errors were made.
The Court of Appeals has 15 judges who sit in panels of three to review cases. According to the judicial branch website, they “review the proceedings that occurred in the trial courts for errors of law or legal procedure; it decides only questions of law – not questions of fact.” Their goal is to ensure that the law was correctly applied in each case and that no errors were made. Judges who sit on the bench at the Court of Appeals serve eight-year terms, and they are elected into the position.
If either party is dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal’s ruling, they may appeal directly to the Supreme Court. However, cases are rarely approved to proceed to that level.
Judges are rotated among five panels to protect against bias and any conflicts of interest. The Supreme Court randomly assigns cases to each panel. They do not review evidence or facts but review the court transcripts, read briefs prepared by each side, and hear oral arguments to make their decision, called an “opinion.” In an effort of transparency, opinions are published on the judicial branch website for the public to review. Every two weeks, each panel reviews about 12 cases. Only two of the three judges need to agree to form a majority. Each judge writes approximately two opinions per week. In some cases, the General Assembly will allow the North Carolina Court of Appeals to sit “en banc” which means all 15 judges review a case together.