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Durham Stops Overnight Civil Restraining Orders For DV Victims

A picture of a gavel on a table.
Joe Gratz
Flickr Creative Commons

Durham County Magistrates will no longer offer civil domestic violence restraining orders. Until Tuesday, it had been one of the few counties to offer this option.

North Carolina law permits district courts the option to allow magistrates to issue civil ex parte protection orders to alleged victims when court is not in session. Plaintiffs would make their cases again before a judge the next business day. But Durham Chief Magistrate Keith Hempstead said his office requested that this ability be removed from their purview.

Hempstead said hearing petitions for and issuing these temporary civil orders had sometimes been unnecessary − he said some plaintiffs were not in a true domestic violence emergencies, and sometimes were referred from other counties without the overnight option − and that the process was generally redundant. That's because the law requires petitioners of a temporary emergency restraining order to make the case again to a judge.

Hempstead said judges are better equipped to review domestic violence cases. Furthermore, because Durham District Court judges are available on weekdays, Hempstead doesn't expect this change will have a significant impact on alleged victims.

"They have one less option in that they can't get an ex parte order from the magistrate's office. However, they still have the option of contacting the police, who are better equipped since they can be on the scene to make an arrest, if necessary. And if an arrest is made, then the individual they're seeking an arrest for will come before the magistrate immediately," said Hempstead, explaining that his office will stick to criminal issues.

"We'll still be dealing with lots of domestic violence. It's just in another aspect of it, in which officers are coming before us with it, seeking out charges. That's actually the bulk of our work."

Amily McCool of the the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence said civil domestic violence protection orders are valuable tools in a survivor's toolbox, because once an alleged perpetrator has been served, the defendant faces criminal charges if the violate the order. However, McCool said the Durham Magistrate Office's new inability to offer these orders  probably won't harm survivors. Moreover, she said, it removes the need for a victim to have to relive abuse while making the case an additional time before receiving a protection order from a judge.

McCool said it would be better if an actual judge were available overnight.

"You know, it's a big change and it's a lot of resources, but that's really the gap that needs to be filled, is how to give victims after hour access ... to judges to review those emergency requests. That's really the solution."

Most district courts in North Carolina do not allow magistrates to issue civil domestic violence protection orders.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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