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Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Attorney General Josh Stein Release Joint Statement Regarding Domestic Violence During COVID-19

For Immediate Release:
Friday, April 3, 2020

(RALEIGH) Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Attorney General Josh Stein released the below joint statement regarding access to the courts for victims of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My first priority is to protect the health and safety of all North Carolinians,” said Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. “I am committed to ensuring that our courts continue safeguarding constitutional rights and providing protection to those who need it. We are working to leverage technology to allow more remote hearings and electronic processing of documents so that we can continue doing that important work in a way that also protects the safety of our court personnel.”

“While sheltering in place helps keep us safe from the coronavirus, sadly, it puts others in greater danger,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “Some North Carolinians are just not safe at home – and we must do all we can to protect them. I am proud to work alongside Chief Justice Beasley in this effort to keep North Carolinians safe.”

Chief Justice Beasley and Attorney General Stein’s Joint Statement:

“Throughout the nation, as we work to implement social distancing to protect against the threat of widespread COVID-19 infection, we must remain mindful of the dangers that social isolation presents, particularly when it comes to domestic violence.

“In North Carolina and across the country, many people are at higher risk of domestic violence as a result of these important public health measures. Some parts of North Carolina have seen an increase of domestic violence calls to law enforcement during the pandemic. The High Point Police Department, for example, reports a 21% increase of domestic violence calls in March compared to the same time last year. On the other hand, we have heard from domestic violence service providers that they are seeing a decrease in calls, perhaps because victims are in close quarters and unable to call for help.

“As Family Service of the Piedmont recently noted, “Historically, incidents of domestic violence and child abuse increase at times when people are experiencing more time together in their homes…” We also know that economic pressures and potential increased substance use also lead to more domestic violence.

“Chief Justice Beasley has taken decisive action to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a March 13, 2020 order postponing most district and superior court proceedings to reduce the spread of the virus. Critically, the directive exempted certain proceedings, such as those seeking emergency relief in domestic violence matters and those protecting the constitutional rights of defendants. We encourage all judges to hear these matters as expeditiously as possible. In the coming days, Chief Justice Beasley and the Administrative Office of the Courts will continue to provide additional guidance to judges and clerks to make sure that these matters can be heard without delay.

“During this time period, the State is working to place signage in all courthouses to ensure that domestic violence victims know they have continued access to the courts.

“While it is essential that courts remain open for victims of domestic violence to seek protective orders under Chapter 50B, we also recognize that going to the courthouse may increase the risk of infection, and victims may be reluctant or unable to do so. Electronic filing is available to domestic violence victims in a number of counties through local service providers, and we are committed to expanding the use of technology in our courts to ensure the needs of victims are met.

“Yesterday, Chief Justice Beasley issued an order allowing protection order proceedings to go forward via videoconference and by telephone when necessary. Doing so will protect those in need of protective orders, ensure the due process rights of defendants, and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“The Chief Justice and Attorney General are also committed to jointly pursuing ways, by legislation and otherwise, to ensure domestic violence victims have access to the protections provided by our court system, including expanding access to electronic-filing for people seeking protective orders.

“North Carolinians who may be victims of domestic violence should know that there are service providers across the state available to help. Please call anytime, day or night, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.”

More on Attorney General Stein’s work to protect North Carolinians during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Attorney General Stein Contact:
Laura Brewer (919) 716-6484

Chief Justice Beasley Contact:
Sharon Gladwell (919) 890-1394

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