Mecklenburg County court officials in conjunction with Safe Alliance have launched a new eCourts Civil Domestic Violence System to provide a safer way for victims of domestic violence to get protective orders. Provided by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, the new system provides electronic filing for protective orders with the assistance of a domestic violence advocate, and the victim has total access to the district court community, including law enforcement, without the need to leave the safety of a secure remote location or compromise their privacy and confidentiality. Instead of multiple stops, the victim has one safe stop to seek protection.
“Domestic violence eFiling removes a barrier for Mecklenburg County residents by providing a safer and more efficient experience,” said Elisa Chinn-Gary, Mecklenburg County clerk of superior court.
The domestic violence eFiling process starts and ends at a domestic violence service agency that is separate from the courthouse. The applicant files the petition, is heard by the judge, and receives signed orders and notification regarding service on the defendant all while they are in a secure, remote location. All matters are conducted electronically and through live video feeds with judges, clerks, and sheriff’s deputies, while the victim receives services from the domestic violence agency, such as safety planning, housing, and child care.
“Domestic violence eFiling is more efficient for victims, law enforcement, and the courts, and it improves public safety and access to justice,” said McKinley Wooten, interim director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. “The system follows in the Judicial Branch’s vision for eCourts and modernizing court technology systems statewide.”
The eFiling system saves time and reduces the risk of physical harm to individuals seeking legal protection by eliminating the manual handling of paper filings to the courthouse. Judges can view documents and sign orders quickly and more efficiently. Local law enforcement can access the system and search service documents, forms, and orders online to facilitate faster service. The system will send automated email and text messages to alert the proper parties as specific events occur in the case.
“I had to go through this process before and it was so confusing,” stated a domestic violence victim and user of this new system. “Being able to stay in one place makes such a huge difference! It is nowhere near as scary for me and my kids.”
In addition to Mecklenburg County, Alamance, Brunswick, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Onslow, Orange, Rowan, and Wake counties are fully operational with the domestic violence eFiling system. The award-winning system, started in Alamance County in 2013, is expanding with funding through a three-year grant from the United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Once implementation concludes, the system will be live in 16 counties and serve more than half of the state’s population.
In 2018, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety reported 103 domestic violence homicides statewide, of which 59 victims were female and nearly 78% of the offenders were male. In fiscal year 2018-19, there were 32,626 domestic violence protective order filings statewide. During the same reporting period, the North Carolina Council for Women reported 112,686 victim calls statewide for domestic violence service providers. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 20 people experience interpersonal violence every minute in this country, which equates to more than 10 million victims of violence yearly.