Understanding North Carolina's Domestic Violence Laws

On behalf of Matthew Benton at Gottholm, Ralston & Benton, PLLC

Understanding how North Carolina defines and punishes domestic violence is crucial to building a strong defense against the charges.

A domestic violence charge in North Carolina can cause someone concern and fear about the future. Anyone who has been accused of such a crime should have an understanding about what the potential consequences are as well as what some common defense strategies may be.

How Does the State Define Domestic Violence?

Under state law, domestic violence may include any of the following acts:

  • Intentionally causing someone a bodily injury
  • Attempting to cause someone a bodily injury
  • Causing someone to fear a bodily injury
  • Committing harassment that could cause someone emotional distress

The law clearly states, however, that acts of self-defense are not considered domestic violence.

Who is the Subject of Domestic Violence?

An allegation of domestic violence may only arise if the person who incurred the act is either a current or former spouse or someone of the opposite sex who either lives with or has lived with the defendant. Domestic violence may also be committed against someone with whom the defendant has a child in common or with whom the defendant has or had a dating relationship.

What is a Protective Order?

In North Carolina, there is a domestic violence protective order that someone may seek if he or she believes such an act has occurred. These orders prevent the accused from having contact with the person who secured it and typically last up to a year, though they may be renewed.

What are the Penalties Associated With Domestic Violence?

For the most part, any criminal act associated with domestic violence is prosecuted through a general law. For example, someone may be charged with stalking, assault or battery. Therefore, the penalties depend on the actual crime committed. If there is a personal relationship between the accuser and the defendant, a judge could order certain probation terms, including psychiatric, drug or medical treatment.

Under the law, violating a protective order could result in a misdemeanor and up to 120 days of jail time. Violating these provisions multiple times could mean a felony charge.

Can a Domestic Violence Charge Have an Effect on Family Law Issues?

Domestic violence can play a role in decisions surrounding issues like child custody. The law states that a court will take into account such acts when determining what will be in the best interest of the child.

What are Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges?

An accusation is far from a conviction, though the consequences of domestic violence charges can be severe. Building a strong defense can protect someone's freedom and family. In addition to claiming self-defense, someone accused of the crime may be able to prove that the allegations are false. This can occur between couples going through a family law case when one person acts out of spite.

Another possibility is to point out a lack of evidence. During the discovery phase, the defense should have access to any items a plaintiff has that seeks to prove the act was committed. Without that proof, it may be hard for the prosecution to secure a conviction.

Anyone with questions about this issue should speak with a criminal defense attorney in North Carolina.