North Carolina, like most states, has special laws that govern crimes committed between people who have had a past or current intimate, familial, or dating relationship. These laws govern both heterosexual and same-sex relationships, although the recent passage of Amendment One (banning gay marriage in North Carolina) has put some of these laws in doubt as they apply to homosexual relationships.
Domestic Violence Defined
Chapter 50B of the North Carolina General Statutes defines domestic violence as it relates to civil restraining orders. In the criminal context, similar rules apply. It’s important to note that the word “violence” does not necessarily mean the criminal act was particularly violent. It merely is a catch-all term used to categorize all crimes where the alleged offender and the alleged victim have been in a personal, intimate, or familial relationship. It doesn’t, generally, apply to mere friendships or acquaintances, unless the friends or acquaintances have previously been in an intimate relationship.
In Raleigh, DV cases are handled in special courtrooms by special prosecutors and appear before judges who have been specially trained in DV-related issues. From the very beginning, a case that has been defined as “domestic violence” will be heard in courtroom 4A of the Wake County Courthouse. If there is an accompanying DV-related request for a protective order, that will be handled in courtroom 9A, which is a civil courtroom.
Types of Domestic Violence Cases
Domestic violence cases can include felonies. Felony-related domestic violence cases are handled by Wake County felony assistant district attorneys. Most DV cases are misdemeanors, however, and are handled by one of two specially assigned ADAs who focus on DV issues.
These crimes can include violation of a 50B Order, Assault on a Female, Battery on an Unborn Child, Simple Assault, Communicating Threats, Interfering with Emergency Communications, Injury to Personal Property, Injury to Real Property, Cyberstalking, Stalking, or Harassment.
Pre-Trial Release and Domestic Violence
The first issue in a criminal case involves pre-trial release. In many DV cases, the alleged offender is detained. In most other criminal cases, the person will be granted a bond immediately upon arrest by a magistrate. But in Domestic Violence cases, a person can be held without bond for up to 48 hours or until the first opportunity to appear before a District Court Judge.
That means that if a person is arrested on a Friday or Saturday night, the person will be held until Monday morning at 11:00 AM.
In most cases, the State will request a bond or pre-trial release, or some combination of the two and a requirement that the alleged offender have “no contact” with the alleged victim.
Even if the victim wants to talk to the defendant, the defendant is prohibited by the order from communicating in an fashion with the victim. If the defendant violates the order, he is subject to additional criminal penalties, including revocation of pre-trial bond.
The victim may be able to have the no contact order lifted by talking to the District Attorney or his victim witness assistant, and this can frequently be facilitated by the defendant’s lawyer.
It’s important to address the “no contact” order at the First Appearance hearing that occurs soon after arrest because failing to do so means, in many cases, that the defendant can have no contact with the alleged victim until at least the next hearing which typically occurs at least three weeks after the first appearance.
What is a No Contact Order?
A “no contact” order is exactly what it says. The defendant may not contact the victim by any means, direct or indirect, via phone, text, email, or social media. The defendant may not pass messages through family members. The defendant may not send gifts. The defendant may not call to apologize.
A violation of a valid “no contact” order may mean new additional criminal charges, and possible revocation of the initial bond conditions.
Some “no contact” orders may permit communication about children, but such communication must be limited to issues or the exchange of children.
A no contact order may only be lifted by the court, and usually will only be lifted with the consent of the District Attorney. However, if the judge believes that the defendant has persuaded the victim not to come to court for future hearings, the judge may reimpose the no contact order.
Disposition of a Domestic Violence Case
Treatment is an important part of Domestic Violence court, and, where the person has little or no criminal record, and the conduct was not especially bad, the defendant may be offered a deferral program. The deferral program involves at least four components:
- The Defendant agrees to participate in a treatment program of some sort.
- The Defendant writes an admission that may be used against the Defendant if he fails to complete the deferral program.
- The Defendant agrees not to get into any further criminal trouble during the course of the program.
- The Defendant agrees either not to harass, assault or threaten (HAT) the victim, or agrees to have no contact whatsoever, depending on the circumstances.
In addition, most DV deferral agreements do not permit the defendant to expunge his record upon completion of the program. While the defendant may earn a dismissal, the defendant can’t erase a record of the arrest from his record (as would be true in other criminal cases).
The Defendant must also come back to court (or have his attorney come back to court) with proof of having enrolled, begun attendance, and completed the programs at various review court dates.
No Deferral Agreement Offered. What Next?
If no deferral agreement is offered (or the defendant doesn’t believe he should have to complete a deferral agreement), the case will be resolved usually by plea or trial. Plea agreements in DV court are the same as plea agreements in any other criminal court. A trial in DV court is also similar.
If found guilty following a trial, the person can appeal his case to regular misdemeanor appeals court for a jury trial.