Key Concepts

  • Jurisdiction must be addressed by the trial court only if it is raised by the defendant, either through a pre-trial motion or at trial.
  • If the issue of jurisdiction is a purely legal question, or there is no genuine dispute as to the facts, the court should decide the matter.
  • If the issue of jurisdiction is based on a genuine factual dispute, the court must submit the matter to the jury to decide.

When Jurisdiction Must be Proven

The question of whether the court has jurisdiction only has to be addressed if the defendant raises the issue. See State v. Batdorf, 293 N.C. 486 (1977) (“[J]urisdiction is a matter which, when contested, should be proven by the prosecution as a prerequisite to the authority of the court to enter judgment.”) (emphasis added); State v. Drakeford, 104 N.C. App. 298 (1991) (where “[t]he evidence makes a prima facie showing of jurisdiction,” that is “sufficient to carry [the case] to the jury without need of a special jury instruction [on jurisdiction]”).

Procedure for Challenging Jurisdiction

The defendant may assert a lack of jurisdiction at any time. See Wayne R. LaFave, Criminal Procedure § 16.4(d) (3d ed. 2007).  (“[I]n contrast to the lack of venue, the lack of jurisdiction is not waivable. The consequence of this non-waivable status is to preserve objections to a lack of jurisdiction apparent on the face of the record notwithstanding a failure to present those objections in a timely fashion. Thus, where the charging instrument on its face shows a lack of jurisdiction...[the issue] may be raised at any time while the case is pending, including...on collateral attack. Similarly, if the trial record establishes that the acts and consequences occurred at places that would put the crime outside of the state’s jurisdiction, that object can first be raised on appeal or even in a habeas petition if the convicted defendant remains in custody.”).

The defense may challenge the jurisdiction of the trial court in two ways:

  1. Pretrial Motion
    The defendant may move for dismissal prior to trial based on lack of jurisdiction. See G.S. 15A-952(d) (motions challenging jurisdiction may be made at any time). The court may consider the matter at a pretrial hearing, or it may defer ruling until a later time, including after trial begins. See G.S. 15A-952(f); State v. Patel, 217 N.C. App. 50 (2011) (noting that “[b]efore trial, defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the trial court lacked jurisdiction” and that “[b]oth parties agreed that the court should address the issue at the close of the State's evidence”).
  2. At Trial
    As noted above, the defendant may wait to challenge jurisdiction until after the trial begins. In such a case, the court must decide whether the state’s evidence of jurisdiction is sufficient to reach the jury, and if so, must submit the issue to the jury.

Standard and Burden of Proof

If there is no factual dispute about jurisdiction, but only a legal question about whether the agreed-upon facts are sufficient to confer jurisdiction, the court, rather than the jury, must decide the issue. See State v. Lalinde, 231 N.C. App. 308 (2013) (“[w]hen the defendant challenges whether any offense occurred or whether he was the perpetrator, but he does not dispute the facts upon which jurisdiction is based, then the trial court properly refuses to instruct the jury on the issue of jurisdiction”); see also G.S. 15A-954(a)(8) (on motion of the defendant, court must dismiss charges if it determines there is no jurisdiction over the offense charged).

If the court determines that there is not sufficient evidence of jurisdiction for the matter to go to the jury, the court must dismiss the charges. See G.S. 15A-954(a)(8).

If the court determines that there is no ‘genuine dispute’ as to the facts giving rise to jurisdiction, the defendant is not entitled to a jury determination on the issue. See State v. Drakeford, 104 N.C. App. 298 (1991); State v. Callahan, 77 N.C. App. 164 (1985); State v. Tucker, 227 N.C. App. 627 (2013).

However, if there is a genuinely disputed question of fact, the issue of jurisdiction should be submitted to the jury, who must decide the issue and return a special verdict on it. See State v. Rick, 342 N.C. 391 (1995) (“when jurisdiction is challenged, as it is here, and the trial court makes a preliminary determination that sufficient evidence exists upon which a jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder occurred in North Carolina, the trial court must also instruct the jury that unless the State has satisfied it beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder occurred in North Carolina, a verdict of not guilty should be returned.”); see also N.C.P.I. Crim. 311.10 (asking the jury to determine jurisdiction because “[t]he defendant has raised the defense of lack of jurisdiction”). When jurisdiction is a question of fact for the jury, failure to submit the issue to the jury is reversible error. See State v. Bright, 131 N.C. App. 57 (1998) (in a case involving a sexual assault against a child, there was evidence that the assault may have taken place in VA rather than NC; the failure to submit jurisdiction to the jury therefore required a new trial). If jurisdiction is raised as an issue, state must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Batdorf, 293 N.C. 486 (1977) (noting that most states so require and holding that “North Carolina should adopt the majority rule”).

Portions of this entry were excerpted from the 2013 North Carolina Defender Manual, Volume I, Chapter 10.