Content warning: This story mentions reporting about an alleged sexual assault.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has directed the Durham District Court to reconsider its denial of a female Duke student’s request for a no-contact order against a male student.
The female student, in an April 19 hearing, accused the male student of non-consensual sexual conduct and stalking. Chief District Court Judge Patricia Evans denied the request, ruling that the plaintiff had not provided enough evidence to justify the order.
A panel of three judges from the N.C. Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff’s appeal, writing that Evans did not “make written findings of fact supported by competent evidence supporting its conclusions of law,” according to the decision filed on Nov. 15.
In her April decision, Evans mentioned “old fashioned principles” before turning down the female student’s request.
According to a recording of the hearing obtained by the News and Observer, Evans said, “I’m reminded of the reason for marriage and commitment. Now those are the old fashioned principles, but there is a rationale behind them because when we do things, because we have the opportunity or you have free choice, you can choose what you’re going to do, but you cannot choose the consequences of those actions.”
The plaintiff told the News and Observer that “it felt very much like [the judge] was blaming me” and the plaintiff’s attorney, Kerry Sutton, said that Evans’ comments were “classic victim blaming.”
Evans also said that she weighed the interests of both parties in her decision, noting that a no-contact order would harm the future of the male student.
“We have a young lady here in obvious distress,” she said in the April hearing. “We have a young man whose life could be changed forever as a result of my decision. So I weigh them both carefully.”
Duke offered the plaintiff a consent no-contact order after the student filed a complaint with the Duke University Police Department. The order advised both parties not to interact with each other if they were in the same location.
The plaintiff appealed Evans’ ruling on procedural grounds, claiming that the judge failed to make written findings with evidence and supporting legal conclusions.
“In the case before us, the trial court made no written findings of fact in its order denying and dismissing Plaintiff’s complaint,” the panel wrote in its appellate decision. “Because the trial court failed to make any findings of fact supporting its conclusions of law, we are unable to conduct meaningful appellate review of the order. We therefore must vacate and remand the trial court’s order.”
Under North Carolina civil procedure, when judges make rulings without a jury they must find facts on the issues, declare related conclusions of law and enter a judgment.
Evans is now required to make a finding of fact, and once a finding of fact is rendered, the plaintiff can appeal it.
In May, Evans lost her re-election in the Democratic primary to attorney Kevin Jones. Her current term ends on Dec. 31.
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Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume. He has also contributed to the sports section.