BREAKING NEWS: High Court dismisses NMI’s appeal and sanctions NMI


On Oct. 21, 2016, the Supreme Court issued its order in Commonwealth v. Rita Sablan. The high court dismissed the appeal and sanctioned the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands because the appeal was deemed frivolous.

The Commonwealth charged Dr. Rita Sablan with operating a government vehicle with tinting and without the requisite government license plates and markings. Following a bench trial, the trial court acquitted Sablan, concluding the vehicle she operated was not a “government vehicle” because it was leased for 15 days, not the statutorily required 12 months under 9 CMC § 1103(e).

The Commonwealth appealed the judgment of acquittal. Subsequently, Sablan filed a motion seeking dismissal of the appeal and sought sanctions under Supreme Court Rule 38, arguing the appeal was frivolous. Sablan argued as a matter of law a judgment of acquittal is not appealable. In response, the Commonwealth argued the appeal was not frivolous because 6 CMC § 8101 allows the government to appeal on a point of law without seeking reversal of an acquittal when a statute has been held invalid. It asserted that the trial court invalidated 9 CMC § 1103(e) by applying a narrower definition of vehicle ownership from 9 CMC §1103(e) of the Vehicle Code rather than applying the definition of “leased” from 1 CMC § 7406(a)(2) when interpreting “government vehicle.”

The Supreme Court first reviewed the statutes governing the government’s right to appeal and concluded 6 CMC § 8101 allowed the Commonwealth to appeal a trial court’s ruling invalidating a statute from a judgment of acquittal without attacking the acquittal on the merits. Notwithstanding this right, the Court concluded the appeal was frivolous because the trial court did not invalidate any statute. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court merely engaged in a statutory interpretation to clarity the term of art “owned or leased” under 9 CMC §1103(e). The Court also concluded that the Commonwealth failed to properly explain what it was appealing in its notice of appeal, which resulted in Sablan’s motion. Due to this error and for filing a frivolous appeal, the Supreme Court sanctioned the Commonwealth.

The Court’s full opinion is available at (PR)

For further information, contact the Supreme Court at 236-9715.

*Disclaimer: This press release constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by court staff for the convenience of the public.

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