What is a Motion for Appropriate Relief?
In North Carolina, a Motion for Appropriate Relief (commonly called an “MAR”) is a statutory motion that allows criminal defendants to challenge either a conviction or a sentence. The statutes governing MARs are N.C.G.S. 15A-1411 through 15A-1422. A MAR may be brought by a defendant, by the State, or by a judge upon its own motion.
When Can a Defendant File a Motion for Appropriate Relief?
There are essentially three different conditions under which a defendant may file a MAR in North Carolina.
(1) Within 10 Days of Entry of Judgment
A defendant may file a MAR within 10 days of the entry of judgement for any error that occurred either during or before the trial. This would include the following:
- Any error of law such as:
- Judge should have dismissed charges under N.C.G.S. 15A-954 but failed to do so
- Judge ruled on motions contrary to law
- Evidence was insufficient to submit case to jury
- Judge erred in jury instructions
- Verdict did not comport with the evidence
- Defendant did not receive a fair and impartial trial
- Sentence is not supported by evidence presented
(2) After 10 Days of Entry of Judgment
After that 10 day period has elapsed, the defendant may bring a MAR for any one of the following reasons:
- Acts of defendant did not constitute a violation of law
- Trial court lacked jurisdiction—a court may lack jurisdiction if the indictment was defective or if an extended period of time passes between the entry of a prayer for judgement continued and entry of the actual judgment
- Conviction of the defendant was unconstitutional—a conviction may be unconstitutional if the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel or if they did not knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently enter into a guilty plea
- Statute under which the defendant was convicted was unconstitutional
- Defendant's conduct was constitutionally protected—conduct may be constitutionally protected if it falls under the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause of the US Constitution
- Retroactive change in the law—a change in the law may come from either new legislation or an appellate case ruling
- Sentence was unauthorized, illegal, or invalid
- Defendant fully served his sentence
- Evidence was discovered after the trial that was unknown, unavailable, or could not have been discovered at the time of trial
- Prostitution defendant was a victim of human trafficking, etc.
(3) With the Consent of the Prosecutor
A defendant may also file a MAR with the consent of the prosecutor, who agrees that the MAR should be granted. When that occurs, the judge may grant the motion if prejudice can be shown. Under N.C.G.S. 15A-1443, a defendant has been prejudiced if there is a reasonable possibility that, had the error in question not been committed, a different result would have been reached at the trial. The defendant has the burden of proving prejudice in that case.
Even if prejudice cannot be shown, the defendant and the prosecutor may enter into an agreement for any type of appropriate relief under N.C.G.S. 15A-1420(e).
Generally, a constitutional violation is prejudicial unless the appellate court finds it to be harmless. The State has burden of proving that it was harmless.
A defendant cannot show prejudice if relief is granted because he sought it or if error is caused by his own conduct.
What to Include in a Motion for Appropriate Relief?
A motion for appropriate relief must:
- be in writing (unless made in open court before the trial judge within 10 days of entry of judgment)
- state the grounds for the motion,
- set forth the relief sought,
- be timely filed, and
- if made in superior court by an attorney, certify that:
- there is a sound legal basis for the motion;
- it is being made in good faith;
- notice was given to the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney at trial;
- the attorney has reviewed the trial transcript or made a good-faith determination that the motion does not require the transcript to be read.
Where to File a Motion for Appropriate Relief?
The motion should be filed in the clerk's office of the court where the charges at issue originated. The clerk must then place the motion on the docket and give the motion to the presiding judge. Some counties require that a notice of hearing be filed.
When will a Motion for Appropriate Relief be Denied?
A MAR will be denied for procedural reasons if:
- Claim was not raised in a prior MAR;
- Issue was determined in a prior proceeding;
- Claim was not raised in a prior appeal (generally will not apply to ineffective assistance of council claims); or
- Defendant failed to timely file the MAR.
A MAR may also be denied if the court finds that:
- The motion has no merit; or
- Prejudice cannot be shown.
What Happens if the Court Grants a Motion for Appropriate Relief?
If the court grants a MAR, the petitioner may then receive:
- A new trial on one or more of the charges;
- A dismissal on one or more of the charges;
- Any other type of relief.