A day in domestic violence court

A day in domestic violence court

In domestic violence court, women always sit on one side, men on the other.  It's an emotional, scary setting for the parties involved. Sometimes emergency protective orders have to be issued or the abuser is put on trial.

In domestic violence civil court, one woman begged for protection against her abuser who was about to get out of jail. One man accused his mistress of harassing him and his new wife. Another woman said her ex-boyfriend choked her in front of the kids. 

If you need the domestic violence national hotline, call 1-800-799-SAFE, or click here

Judge Ty Hands is the lead domestic violence judge in Mecklenburg County. She did not grant them all restraining orders. She couldn't.
"I make a decision based on the evidence I have," said Hands, who has been a judge nearly six years.  "I can't be expected to predict the future. I can't be expected to read minds"

Some cases are really tough. A lot of "he said, she said" with plenty of denials. This day, Judge Hands examined text messages and voicemails to help fill in the gaps. It's a job of managing all kinds of people during their worst time.
"I have CEO's sitting next to folks working a regular nine-to-five, to homeless people. It definitely crosses all racial lines, all socio-economic lines," she said.

Mecklenburg County runs two domestic violence courts, civil and criminal. Criminal cases often involve assaults and threats. On any given day, there can be a hundred cases on the criminal docket. The Mecklenburg County District Attorney's Office created a domestic violence team to give these case extra attention and help address the community problem.

It all became part of the community conversation when Carolina Panthers player Greg Hardy was arrested and charged with communicating threats and assault.
Hardy's ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder filed a protective order in civil court and then pursued criminal charges. A district court judge found Hardy guilty during a bench trial, but he has appealed to have his case heard by a jury in superior court. It's expected to go to trial in 2015.

Their case grabbed national headlines, along with the case of suspended NFL player Ray Rice, who punched his then-fiance in an elevator.

However, more than 2900 restraining orders were issued in Mecklenburg County last year. Hardy's case made headlines because it involved a famous name.

The cases which Judge Hands says really grab her attention, are the ones involving children.

One woman said her ex punched her in the face and kicked in the door to grab their two month old baby.  Issues like custody and visitation immediately become part of the case. Often, supervised visitation is ordered by the court to make sure the children are protected.

Last year, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police responded to 8400 domestic violence-related calls. Many of the victims were threatened with weapons, held against their will, and harassed.
"I do think it's gotten busier," said Hands. "I dont think there's been an increase in domestic violence because of the national spotlight, I just think maybe people feel more comfortable in coming forward."

There is help for victims. Mecklenburg County offers several programs for victims and their families. Just this week, the County opened a Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Center. Many private centers charge high fees, which some parents can't afford.

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