Being charged with a violent domestic crime is a serious matter. Many people who are charged with this type of crime have never broken the law before, or have only committed similar crimes. As a result, they are often unsure of their rights and responsibilities before the law. In this article we have compiled the most crucial information on Maryland domestic violence laws, whether you’ve been the victim of a domestic-related crime or are currently being charged with one of these offenses. Here are some of the questions that our clients most frequently ask.
Which Crimes Fall Under Maryland’s Domestic Violence Laws?
Surprisingly, Maryland does not have a series of laws that are designed to specifically punish domestic violence. The Maryland code of law is simply a list of crimes that could be committed in a domestic or non-domestic situation. A domestic crime receives the same penalty as the same crime committed in different circumstances.
However, a few crimes are associated with domestic violence more often than others. Under Maryland domestic violence laws, perpetrators are most commonly charged with first or second degree assault. You can be charged with second degree assault for any unconsented contact, from a verbal threat to physical battery, and a conviction will earn you ten years in prison. To be charged with first degree assault, which carries a 25-year sentence, you must initiate the same unconsented contact while also using a firearm or seriously intending to cause the victim injury.
Here are a few more of the most common crimes committed in domestic violence cases:
- Stalking (5 years in jail)
- Telephone misuse (3 years in jail)
- Electronic misuse (1 year in jail)
- Harassment (90 days in jail)
- Violations of protection or peace orders (90 days in jail for first offense, 1 year in jail for subsequent offenses)
Are Domestic Violence Cases Handled Differently?
In most situations, yes. The Maryland state’s attorney considers domestic violence an epidemic in the state. Whether or not this is the case, you must understand that this perception of an “epidemic” creates a sense of urgency. And if a domestic violence allegation is true, they always involve a victim. The state’s attorney is simply more motivated to prosecute these cases because of the circumstances surrounding them.
Many counties employ state’s attorneys whose sole or primary responsibility is to handle Maryland domestic violence laws. These people aren’t worried in the same way about two strangers that get into a bar fight. This prosecutor is trained to care especially for anyone they believe to be a victim who is living or stuck in a relationship with an abuser. Do not make the mistake of thinking your prosecutor will take your matter lightly.
Can I Live With My Significant Other While The Case Is Pending?
Many people who were living with their significant other before the incident wonder if they are still allowed to live together under Maryland domestic violence laws. The short answer? It depends on whether you were arrested and the terms of your release.
If you were never arrested, then a judge or commissioner never ordered you to stay away from your significant other or their residence. In that case, you are free to live wherever you were living before the incident. However, if you were arrested, then you probably met with a commissioner and judge and were released with certain orders. Pretrial conditions of release often require you to stay away from certain people or places. Respect these orders and find somewhere else to live.
If a judge or commissioner told you to stay away, but your significant other is ready to welcome you back, Maryland domestic violence laws do not permit you to go home until a judge signs a pretrial release order. Before you even speak to your significant other, ask yourself whether the conversation violates any existing pretrial release orders. Make a mistake, and you could face consequences like revocation of bail. If your significant other has a change of heart, contact your attorney and have them speak with the state’s attorney. They may be able to arrange a hearing, change the pretrial release order, and allow you to contact your significant other.
None of this information applies if your significant other has applied for a protection order, which supersedes any other rules. If a protection order conflicts in any way with the terms of your release, follow the protection order to the letter. Violating the protection order will risk new charges.
My Significant Other Won’t Come To Court—Do I Still Need A Lawyer?
When your life is on the line, you should never assume things will be simple. A verbal promise from your significant other may make you dismiss your concerns, but you should never assume a case will be dismissed until after you’ve heard a prosecutor say those exact words to the judge.
Under Maryland domestic violence laws, prosecutors can compel a victim to appear in court using something called a “body attachment.” This tool allows litigants to dispatch the police to locate a witness and bring them to court, even if it is against their will. Not every body attachment is permissible. An attorney can help you object to a body attachment. In addition, your case may be provable even if your significant other never enters the courtroom. An experienced attorney can help you navigate these complex situations and prevent a state’s attorney from proving an unfair case.
Should I Tell My Significant Other To Avoid Court?
Never. This is illegal. If anyone finds out about this request before your case goes to court, a judge will not hesitate to revoke your bail and keep you in jail until your court date. In addition, telling someone not to come to court can give rise to new charges. Trying to convince someone else not to come to court is never worth it. Instead, hire a lawyer who can argue a strong case for you no matter who shows up in court.
Should I Seek Counseling Before Court?
Yes. Seeking counseling will never hurt the outcome in a criminal case. You really may need the counseling, and it may make the difference between a prosecutor pressing and dropping charges. If the prosecutor decides not to drop the charges and you are ultimately found guilty, no judge will view the counseling as a waste of time. It may not guarantee you a better result, but it will never hurt you.
How Can I See Children Living With My Significant Other?
This is one of the most complicated circumstances in a domestic violence case. If you are ordered to stay away from someone, Maryland domestic violence laws dictate that you are not even allowed to talk to them on the phone. In these situations, you should consult a Family Law attorney who can set up a temporary arrangement that allows a third party to assist in the exchange of the children.
If your significant other refuses to cooperate, then you can file for a custody order through the family court. Remember that it is illegal for a parent to keep children away from their other parent unless there is a custody order allowing them to do so.
Confused or overwhelmed by Maryland domestic abuse laws? The attorneys at Zirkin and Schmerling Law are highly qualified, professional litigators who can assist you with any kind of domestic cases. If you have been accused of domestic violence in Maryland, call us at 410-753-4611 to speak with one of our attorneys about your case in an initial consultation.