SiC-based high temperature power devices are being developed for aerospace systems which will require high reliability. One behavior crucial to power device reliability. To date, it has necessarily been assumed to date is that the breakdown behavior of SiC pn junctions will be similar to highly reliable silicon-based pn junctions. Challenging this assumption, we report the observation of anomalous unreliable reverse breakdown behavior in moderately doped (2-3 x 10(exp 17) cm(exp -3)) small-area 4H- and 6H-SiC pn junction diodes at temperatures ranging from 298 K (25 C) to 873 K (600 C). We propose a mechanism in which carrier emission from un-ionized dopants and deep level defects leads to this unstable behavior. The fundamental instability mechanism is applicable to all wide bandgap semiconductors whose dopants are significantly un-ionized at typical device operating temperatures.