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Self Defense in Domestic Violence

Y Michael Yin, JD

Hunter v. Hunter, 2024-NCCOA-______ (2024).

Facts:  In June 2023, a family dispute turned violent between the Plaintiff and the Defendant, his father. The altercation arose over a disagreement regarding the Plaintiff’s daughter attending bible school. During the argument, the Defendant struck the Plaintiff in the neck, causing him to fall to the ground and suffer a concussion. This incident occurred in the presence of the Plaintiff’s fiancé and daughter, who were seated in a nearby car.

Following the altercation, the Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking a domestic violence protective order. The court responded promptly by issuing an ex parte domestic violence protective order on the same day.

Subsequently, a hearing was conducted on 10 July 2023 to address the Plaintiff’s motion for a protective order. During this hearing, the Defendant argued that his actions were in self-defense. Two witnesses, identified as the Defendant’s sisters, testified in support of the Defendant’s claim. They stated that they observed the Plaintiff aggressively waving his hands in front of the Defendant’s face. The sisters saw this from a significant distance away (approximately 200 yards).

In consideration of the evidence presented, the trial court ruled in the Plaintiff’s favor and issued a one-year domestic violence protective order against the Defendant. Defendant subsequently appealed the trial court’s decision.

Issue:  In concluding that Defendant’s acts were not in self defense, did the trial court err?

Holding:  No.

RationaleDomestic violence in North Carolina is defined as attempts to cause bodily injury, or causing said bodily injury. However, there is an exception for acts of self defense, so any of the above acts conducted while acting in self defense do not culminate in domestic violence. Self defense becomes a justification, and there can be no finding of domestic violence. Another exception that exists in the law prevents an aggressor from claiming use of self defense. The only evidence that Plaintiff was the aggressor came from Defendant’s sisters, who were quite a distance away. The trial court properly considered the sisters’ testimony and concluded that their weight, if any, did not amount to a justification to use self defense in this situation. Therefore, the trial court did not err in entering a domestic violence protective order.

Self defense is a nuanced argument to make in defense of an act of domestic violence. If you have any questions, please contact a family law specialist today.