People in a domestic violence relationship are in a precarious, volatile, and highly dangerous situation. It is incredibly hard for victims to choose to leave these relationships and even harder to do so safely. This is why domestic violence programs exist throughout the country, to provide advice, counseling, and shelter. It is essential, however, for victims to be able to trust that it is safe to utilize these essential resources.
The North Carolina General Statutes Section 8-53.12 provides that certain domestic violence communications by a victim are privileged. The purpose for this privilege is to encourage domestic violence victims to come forward for help without fear that their identity or what they said in confidence will be disclosed to their abuser.
Specifically, the statute states that “No agent of a center shall be required to disclose any information which the agent acquired during the provision of services to a victim and which information was necessary to enable the agent to render the services.” Under the definitions in the statute, a “center” includes a domestic violence program and an “agent” includes an employee or volunteer of a domestic violence center. In other words, if a victim chooses to seek help at a domestic violence center and speaks to a counselor for assistance or admission, then that counselor cannot be made to disclose that information.
Exceptions to the Privilege
Significantly, the victim is free to waive this privilege and allow the release of information. Further, there is a limited exception to the privilege if a court in the context of a civil or criminal case makes the following three findings:
- The testimony or records are “relevant and material to factual issues” at issue in a civil proceeding or is “relevant, material, and exculpatory upon the issue of guilt, degree of guilt, or sentencing” in a criminal proceeding.
- The information is “not merely sought for character impeachment purposes”; and
- The information is not “cumulative” of other evidence already presented. In other words, the information has not already come in through other means.
Of course, the courts of this state take domestic violence seriously, which is why they are reluctant to compel an agent of a domestic violence center to break privilege.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
At New Direction Family Law, we support domestic violence survivors. If you are in need of protection from domestic violence, seek help. If you need legal protection, please contact us. The team at New Direction Family Law will provide you with thoughtful, intelligent legal advice. We serve Wake, Johnston, Lee, Harnett, Cumberland, Nash, Granville, Franklin, and Durham counties. Contact our team today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment, or visit us at our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law