North Carolina Domestic Violence Laws

By , Attorney (Georgia State University College of Law)

North Carolina law defines domestic violence as one of several violent acts when committed between people sharing a personal relationship. North Carolina law also provides a system where a victim of domestic violence can file an application for a court-issued protective order.

How North Carolina Defines Personal Relationships

A personal relationship is defined as two people who are:

  • current or former spouses,
  • persons of the opposite sex who live together or have lived together,
  • related as parent and child (including persons acting as a parent to a minor child) or as grandparents and grandchildren,
  • parents of the same child,
  • current or former household members, or
  • persons of the opposite sex who are in or were in a dating relationship.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-1)

Domestic Violence Defined

A person commits domestic violence by committing one or more of the following acts against a person with whom the offender shares or shared a personal relationship, or against the minor child of such a person:

  • intentionally causing or attempting to cause bodily injury
  • putting the victim or a member of the victim's family or household in fear of imminent bodily injury or continued harassment, to the extent that the fear causes substantial emotional distress, or
  • committing any of the following sex-related crimes: first or second-degree rape; sexual offense with a child; first or second-degree sexual offense; sexual battery; statutory rape or sexual offense of a person 13, 14, or 15 years old; or intercourse and sexual offenses with certain victims.

Domestic Violence Sentencing

North Carolina's criminal statutes generally apply to defendants regardless of whether they share a personal relationship with the victim. When the crime does fit the definition of domestic violence, however, the law provides the judge with the opportunity to impose special conditions when sentencing the defendant.

If the judge determines that a personal relationship exists or existed, the determination is noted in the official record of the case so that future inquiries into the defendant's criminal record will show that the defendant committed a crime involving domestic violence. Additionally, the judge may impose special terms of probation, including any of the following conditions that:

  • require the defendant to undergo medical or psychiatric treatment and remain in a specified institution if necessary for such treatment
  • attend or reside in a facility that provides rehabilitation, counseling, treatment, training, or residence for people on probation
  • successfully complete a Drug Treatment Court Program
  • abstain from consuming alcohol and submit to continuous alcohol monitoring, and
  • require the defendant to remain at home except for specified purposes, such as employment or school.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 15A-1343(b1), 15A-1382.1)

Protective Orders

A person who fears being the victim of domestic violence, or who has already been the victim of domestic violence, may petition the court for a protective order to prevent future acts of domestic violence.

A person can file a petition for an emergency protective order if that person believes that there is a danger of receiving serious and immediate injury, or if the person believes that a minor child may become the victim of such an injury. The court may schedule a hearing that includes the defendant, and the judge can grant an ex parte protective order prior to the hearing if the allegations demonstrate the petitioner or a minor child are in danger of domestic violence. Ex parte means that the court issues the emergency protective order without notifying the defendant before issuing the order.

After conducting a hearing with both the petitioner and defendant, the court must issue a protective order if it finds that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence. The order may include provisions that:

  • prohibit the defendant from committing further abuse
  • grant one of the parties possession of the home and exclude the other party from the home
  • require a party to provide suitable alternate housing to the party's spouse and children
  • award temporary child custody and visitation
  • require the defendant to vacate the home and assist the victim in returning to the home
  • require either party to make child support payments
  • award possession of personal property to either party
  • prohibit a party from threatening, abusing, or following the other party
  • prohibit a party from harassing the other party by telephone, by visiting the other party's workplace or home, or by other means
  • prohibit a party from abusing a pet possessed by the other party or a minor child residing in the household
  • award attorney's fees to either party
  • prohibit a party from buying a firearm during a specified period
  • require the abuser to attend and complete a domestic violence treatment program, and
  • any additional terms the court determines are necessary to protect the victim or a child.

A protective order can remain valid for up to one year from the time the court issues it, but a party may ask the court to renew the order for an additional two years.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-3)

Violating a Protective Order

A person who violates a protective order is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 60 days in jail if the defendant has no prior convictions.

If the defendant commits a felony while subject to a protective order that prohibits such activity, the felony is punished as a felony one class higher than otherwise set by the law, unless the felony is a Class A or B1 felony or the defendant has two or more prior convictions for violating a protective order or unless the defendant possesses a deadly weapon while violating a provision to stay away from a person or place. If the defendant has two prior convictions for violating or a protective order, or if the defendant violates a stay away provision while possessing a deadly weapon, the new violation is punished as a Class H felony, which carries a presumptive sentence range of five to six months in prison for persons with no prior criminal convictions.

A person subject to a protective order who enters property operated as a safe haven for domestic violence victims is guilty of a Class H felony.

An officer must arrest the defendant if the officer has reason to believe that the defendant violated a protective order term pertaining to exclusion from the victim's home or a term prohibiting the defendant from threatening, abusing, or harassing the victim. Under such circumstances, the law does not require the officer to obtain an arrest warrant before making the arrest, which is the normal procedure.

(N.C. Gen. Stat. § § 15A-1340.17, 15A-1340.23, 50B-4.1)

Contact An Attorney

If you are charged with committing a crime involving domestic violence, or if you are accused of committing domestic violence in a petition for a protective order, you should speak with an attorney immediately. A skilled attorney is essential to successfully defending against allegations that can result in criminal penalties, a restrictive protective order, or both. An attorney will provide invaluable guidance throughout the process while protecting your rights.

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