In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Carolina court system decided to temporarily suspend cases and limit operations. While most Mecklenburg County district court sessions have been paused or postponed, domestic violence court is still operating, however, with fewer hours, courtrooms, and resources.
According to The Charlotte Observer, the Charlotte Police Department has seen a noticeable increase in domestic violence-related 911 calls. In fact, the CPD reports an 18% increase of calls for domestic violence in Charlotte compared to March of 2019. Spikes in domestic violence generally occur during snowstorms or other natural disasters when people are stuck at home together, and North Carolina’s stay at home order has also created a drastic rise in domestic violence calls as a result of COVID-19.
What is Domestic Violence?
North Carolina defines domestic violence as violent acts committed between people sharing a personal relationship. A personal relationship includes current or former spouses, parents of the same child, current or former household members, persons of the opposite sex who live together, have lived together, or are/were in a dating relationship, and people who are related (parent/child, grandparent/grandchild).
The following acts are considered domestic violence in North Carolina:
- Putting the victim or a member of their family or household in fear of imminent bodily injury or continued harassment to the extent that that fear causes emotional distress
- Committing a sex related crime, like rape, sexual offense with a child, sexual battery, or statutory rape
- Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury intentionally
Victims of domestic violence in North Carolina can file an application for a court-issued protective order.
One of the most common domestic violence crimes is violation of a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO or 50b), commonly referred to as a restraining order.
Violation of a DVPO requires that (1) a valid DVPO exists; and (2) the defendant knowingly violated the terms of the DVPO. Most commonly, orders will include language restricting direct or indirect contact with the plaintiff/plaintiff’s family, as well as the surrender of any owned firearms.
A DVPO violation typically carries an A1 Misdemeanor charge (maximum of 150 days in jail). This is not true for all violations, however. Possession of a deadly weapon while violating direct contact restriction or the third violation offense could result in a Class H felony.
The consequences of a felony conviction in NC can have devastating and lasting effects on a person’s life.
As a victim, can I get a protective order during the COVID-19 NC stay-at-home order?
Yes. If a person has been the victim of domestic violence, or if they fear becoming a victim, they may petition the court for a protective order. Though the NC Court System has limited hours due to COVID-19, they are still granting protective orders that give victims at least one week of court-ordered protection and custody of children and possession of property, in some cases. An experienced Charlotte family law attorney can assist you with the necessary steps and provide guidance through the situation.
What happens in domestic violence situations involving children?
If someone has filed a report of child abuse or neglect against you, you should know that in North Carolina, DSS is obligated to follow up on the allegation. Especially when court operations have shifted and state agencies may be bogged down with additional work, it is very important to have quick guidance from an attorney who can advise you of the potential outcomes of your case and create a plan to help you and your family.
In cases where you are worried about the safety of your child, you should know that a 50(b) Domestic Violence Protection Order can apply to yourself or your children. Missy Foard, family law partner and attorney in Charlotte, explains the process of obtaining a DVPO in North Carolina.
What do I do if I receive domestic violence charges?
First, it’s vital you immediately contact a criminal defense attorney in Charlotte. These charges are serious, are being pursued under the limited court operations, and could have serious impacts on your future if convicted. An attorney will listen to the circumstances and provide you with the best path based on your situation. As discussed previously, a felony conviction could have serious implications for your future, and a domestic violence conviction could impact future sentencing.
If you feel you need assistance managing the stress of the pandemic or staying at home with family members for extended periods of time, there is help available. This article offers suggestions nationally, and a local Charlotte attorney may be able to connect you with additional local resources.
If you need assistance with a situation involving domestic violence in Charlotte during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact our law firm 24/7 to be virtually connected with an experienced attorney who will work with you to secure the best outcome for your situation.