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A Johnston County court has appeared in the news recently for kicking a woman out of court while she was breastfeeding her baby in a sling, according to WRAL. Danielle Bell needed to appear in traffic court. She brought her 3-month old child with her. While waiting for the case to be called, sitting in the back of the courtroom, she breastfed her baby who was covered up in a sling. A deputy of the court told her that children under the age of 12 were not permitted in the courtroom and asked her to leave. Bell’s husband took the child outside of the courtroom.
When Bell’s case was called and she went in front of the judge, the judge told her that she could not bring the baby back to court. Bell was concerned with leaving the baby at home because otherwise the baby would be unable to eat. The judge said that was not of his concern and stated that if Bell made more objections she would be held in contempt of court. These are the facts as reported by WRAL.
Taking the facts of the case above, was the judge permitted to instruct the woman to not bring her child back to court? A North Carolina statute states that “the judge in his discretion may order any person other than a defendant removed from the courtroom when his or her conduct disrupts the conduct of the trial.” Judges have discretion to maintain order within their courtroom.
Another concern of Bell’s was her right to breastfeed in public spaces. Other jurisdictions have limited circumstances of when a courtroom can be closed, but these rules are often not exclusive to forbidding children from being in a courtroom. While other jurisdictions are not necessarily applicable to North Carolina courts, it is important to examine how situations are treated elsewhere to determine whether it can be adapted to North Carolina standards.
There is no specific case law that dictates whether the judge has the authority to forbid children from being in the courtroom. In looking at local rules, state statutes, and other jurisdictions, it appears that the majority of places come back to the idea of judicial discretion. Judges often have the discretion to remove individuals who are causing a disruption in the courtroom. This can include young children who might not have the patience to sit through a formal court proceeding.
Given the lack of specific law on the matter, it is difficult to come to a certain conclusion. It is up in the air whether a judge can categorically ban young children from the courtroom, but it is reasonable to think that the judge instead might recommend that children not be present in the room. Other courts, including the Supreme Court, have even said that children do not always possess the wherewithal to sit through a formal court proceeding.
If you have questions about bringing your child to court, or any other aspect of a criminal law proceeding, contact the experienced criminal law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.
The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.
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