As court operations in Durham County and across North Carolina were reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many court dates were rescheduled, creating uncertainty for victims with pending criminal matters. This uncertainty was especially acute for survivors of domestic violence, who sometimes rely on a court intervention for their safety.
Staff at the Durham County District Attorney’s Office Special Victims Unit realized this concern and began dedicating countless hours to increase their communication with victims and keep their cases moving.
Understanding the importance of human connection, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Sotomayor teamed up with Amanda Murphy, an intern in the office, to call more than 400 victims in domestic violence cases with court dates coming up this summer.
The pair checked in with each person about the status of their case and whether they continued to experience abuse, explained how the pandemic was affecting court operations, and shared local domestic violence resources, including how to start the process of seeking a protective order if needed. In instances where more discussion was necessary, they even invited victims to the office for socially distanced follow-up meetings to determine what should happen with their cases.
Sotomayor and Murphy have taken every measure to reach domestic violence victims during this time of instability, provide them with proper notice before action is taken in their cases, and ensure their cases are not dismissed simply because they could not come to court.
For victims who could not be reached by phone, they also sent notice by mail of times they could visit the District Attorney’s Office (without appointment) for a consultation before their case went before a judge. In addition to providing critical information and connecting survivors of abuse to important resources, these efforts have helped the Special Victims Unit begin to resolve a backlog of cases delayed by the pandemic.
This story is an edited version of a submission provided by the Durham County District Attorney’s Office as part of an ongoing series about how communities are adapting to the COVID-19 world. To share your story, check out our submission form.