In a 2-1 decision released this morning, the N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a lower-court ruling that would force the state Correction Department to release two inmates who contend that they have served their full “life” sentences.

At issue is whether prison credits issued for “gain time,” “good time,” and “meritorious service” should have been applied to “life” sentences when state law considered a life sentence to mean 80 years in prison. The trial judge said yes last year and ordered a June 2011 release for inmates Clyde Vernon Lovette and Charles Lynch. Their release remained on hold during the state’s appeal.

A dissent in this case means the N.C. Supreme Court could consider the issue. The dissenter is Judge Sam Ervin IV, who is seeking a seat on the Supreme Court in the fall election.