Victims of alleged domestic violence in North Carolina who fear for their safety at the courthouse could testify remotely at the defendant’s criminal trial or hearing under legislation that advanced in the state Senate on Tuesday.
The measure grew out of a Robeson County case in which a woman was fatally stabbed during the week of Thanksgiving outside a Lumberton grocery store. The man charged with first-degree murder in the death of 31-year-old Kayla Hammonds had a criminal record that included charges involving the pair, according to court records.
Family members of Hammonds said Tuesday that some previous criminal cases against the defendant had been dismissed because Hammonds was scared to appear or testify against her ex-boyfriend.
“It’s totally uncalled for what happened to her,” Sherry Hammonds, the woman’s mother, said at a Legislative Building news conference. “If we could just help one other person get out of a domestic violence situation — if it’s just one — it would be all worth it. My daughter didn’t die in vain.”
The bill, which is named for Hammonds and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee later Tuesday, would set up a process similar to another criminal procedure law that allows some children to testify outside a defendant’s presence if a court allows it.
Remote video testimony would be granted if it’s determined that the victim would otherwise suffer “serious emotional distress” by testifying in the presence of the defendant and have trouble communicating. The defendant’s attorney would have to be in the same room with the victim during cross-examination.
“Fear and intimidation is real. It is real and it impacts victims, especially in domestic abuse cases to an extreme degree,” Robeson County Disrtict Attorney Matthew Scott said at the news conference. “And this piece of legislation helps us mitigate that.”
The bill also would expand the statute of limitations for misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence to 10 years, up from the current two years, allowing more such cases to be prosecuted.
The proposed “Kayla’s Act” also would place into state law language that makes it clear out-of-court statements can be entered into a trial as admissible evidence when an opposing party caused the potential witness not to appear.
The language is designed to address situations in which the potential witness was intimidated by the defendant from speaking previously in court, said Sen. Danny Britt, a Robeson County Republican and a chief bill sponsor.
Defendants would be able to make their case to a judge as to why a statement should not be admitted, or why an alleged victim of domestic violence should be required to testify in court, rather than remotely.
The bill provides safety to victim witnesses while “also protecting the constitutional rights of the accused,” Britt said. The bill needs one more affirmative Senate panel vote before it can go to the chamber floor.
The suspect in Hammond’s death, identified by authorities as Desmond Lee Sampson, is charged with first-degree murder and a domestic violence protection order violation, according to court documents. His next court date is June 2.
An email seeking information on where Sampson is being held and if he has an attorney was sent to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.