‘Kayla’s Law’ domestic violence bill clears committee with bipartisan vote

By: - March 22, 2023 6:00 am
Dressed in purple, the family of Kayla Hammonds, for whom the domestic violence bill is named, listen as it is heard.

The proposal would allow survivors of domestic violence to testify remotely against their alleged abusers and increase the statute of limitations for prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Kayla Hammonds was afraid to go to court. She couldn’t bear the thought of facing her ex-boyfriend in the courtroom alone, so she would bring her sister for moral support. Terror-stricken, Kayla would glance at the door throughout the hearing, afraid her alleged abuser would walk through it. Sometimes, she just didn’t go.

“He threatened her life, family members [lives,] it’s understandable why she didn’t show up in court numerous times,” her grandfather, J.W. Hammonds, said at a press conference Tuesday.

Some of the charges against her ex were dropped because she didn’t come to court, according to ABC 15. Last November, Kayla was stabbed to death outside a grocery store in Lumberton.

On Tuesday legislators voted a bill out of committee that they said would protect survivors of domestic violence by allowing them to testify against their alleged abuser remotely, sparing them the pain and anxiety of being in the same room as the person who hurt and threatened them.

“Even just a glare in the courtroom or a glare in the hall, or having to encounter that individual in a stairway or while you wait out in the hall prior to your court case, is simply enough to cause that person so much fear that they do not testify,” said Sen. Danny Earl Britt, Jr. (R-Hoke, Robeson, Scotland) and one of the primary sponsors of the bill. “And then this cycle of abuse just continues.”

After Kayla died, J.W. Hammonds called Britt’s office to discuss what they could do to ensure others didn’t meet the same fate. With help from the Conference of District Attorneys and the Administrative Office of the Courts, they came up with a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor domestic violence from two to 10 years; the measure would also allow evidence to be used against someone if they threaten a victim and that person doesn’t show up to court.

Sen. Danny Earl Britt, Jr. (R-Hoke)

“We want the victims of domestic violence to seek help. We don’t want them to avoid it,” said Sen. Buck Newton (R-Greene, Wayne, Wilson). “Threats and intimidation of witnesses have no place in the courthouse. This is going to be an important piece to give them peace of mind, giving them the opportunity to testify remotely.”

Data recently published by the Governor’s Crime Commission indicates 185,936 instances of partner or family violence-related incidents occurred in the state between 2019 and 2021.

Almost three-quarters of domestic violence survivors were women.

Per ABC 15, in the two years before her death Kayla sought two protection orders against Desmond Lee Sampson. In one filed a month before she died, she alleged Sampson threw a brick through her window, slashed her tires, physically and sexually assaulted her, posted naked pictures of her on social media and threatened to slit her throat.

Sampson reportedly sought a protection order of his own in August 2021, but that request was denied.

Sampson is charged with first-degree murder and violating a domestic violence protective order. His next court date is June 2.

Matthew Scott, the district attorney of Robeson County, whose office is prosecuting Sampson, said the bill legislators advanced out of the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday allows prosecutors to use old cases that had been previously dismissed to make a stronger case against a person accused of domestic violence.

“Fear and intimidation is real,” Scott said. “It’s real, and it has tremendous impacts on victims of domestic violence.”

The bill — “Kayla’s Act” — contains protections for the accused’s rights, Britt said, attempting to bolster its chances of surviving a constitutional challenge.

A hearing must be held before a prosecutor’s witness can testify remotely. Defense lawyers and prosecutors can agree on a location for a witness to give testimony, but if they cannot, it is the judge’s call. Defense lawyers can still cross-examine the witness. And representatives from the defense and prosecution are allowed to be present during the testimony, to ensure it is not being “fed to” the witness by someone coaching them from offscreen.

Britt said that under the bill, the remote testimony option would apply only to cases involving domestic violence and abuse.

Shortly before making a motion to report the bill out of committee, Sen. Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg) said the proposal was needed in North Carolina.

“I am very happy to see this bill, as a former resident manager of a battered women’s shelter,” said Hunt.

Britt said he expected the measure to be on the floor for a vote next week.

Kayla’s mother, Sherry, also attended Tuesday’s committee hearing. She described Kayla as a kind mother of two children who loved helping others, someone who just wanted to free her and her daughters from a life of terror and pain.

“Just knowing that this law would get passed, she would be so happy knowing that she could help some other woman or man be protected and not have to face their accusers,” Sherry said.

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.