The consequences of domestic violence got a lot more serious in North Carolina during the recently adjourned Long Session. In fact, a conviction of previous domestic violence could lead to death row under a law passed in honor of domestic violence victim, Britny Puryear.
The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 600, “Britny’s Law: IPV Homicide” and Gov. Roy Cooper signed it into law on July 11. It includes as a factor in deciding the degree a homicide is charged as whether the suspect has a previous domestic violence conviction against the victim in a killing, if so it can be charged as a first-degree murder, which can lead to the death penalty.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Chad Barefoot (R-Wake).
Prior to the new legislation, someone alleged to have killed another in a domestic situation would likely be charged with second-degree murder, which does not carry the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole as sentencing options. The defense in this situation is often that the killing was a crime of passion or a “heat of the moment” act.
This was the case with Puryear. The 22-year old was shot and killed in her Fuquay-Varina home in November 2014. Her boyfriend, and father of their five-month old child, Logan McLean, secured a plea deal in March 2016 to a charge of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 26 to 32 years in prison.
There were allegations that McLean had a history of domestic violence against Puryear.
Under the new law, a homicide can be charged as a first-degree murder if the following can be shown: If someone accused of murder can be shown to have had malice against the victim; they were the spouse, former spouse, living together as if married, in a dating relationship or have a child in common with the victim.
Also, the perpetrator has been previously convicted of one of the following against the victim: An act of domestic violence, violating a domestic protective order, communicating a threat, stalking, cyberstalking or domestic criminal trespass.
Though named in honor of Puryear, Britny’s law would not have applied in her case as McLean had not been convicted of domestic violence against her.
In a March 7, 2016 story at WTVD.com Puryear’s father Stephen is quoted as saying that McLean’s conviction and plea deal is not closure. Puryear said, “There’s never any closure. Britny’s always going to be dead and gone. You can change everything, except gone.”
Cooper was joined by members of Puryear’s family when he signed the bill into law. At the bill-signing Cooper said, “Domestic violence is a crime that destroys families and lives. These new laws give survivors of domestic violence more ways to protect themselves, and law enforcement and prosecutors more tools to hold perpetrators of domestic violence responsible for their crimes.”
At the same time, Cooper also signed HB343, “Enforcement of Domestic Violence Protection Order on Appeal,” which allows a domestic violence protection order issued by a court to take effect even if under appeal; and HB399, “Stop Images Taken Without Consent From Dissemination,” which broadens the state’s revenge porn law passed in 2015.
According to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 82 people lost their lives due to domestic violence last year in North Carolina. This year, domestic violence has taken the lives of 44 North Carolinians.