Changes to Maryland domestic violence law have major implications

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. With serious domestic violence incidents dominating headlines in recent weeks, there has never been a more opportune time for the Maryland legislature to respond to this public health epidemic. Maryland residents should be aware of several recent legal changes that have been implemented during this 2014 Legislative Session.

The legal changes are designed to expand protections for those who have suffered from sexual assault and domestic violence. As of Oct. 1, a new standard of proof will be used in courtroom proceedings in which a victim is seeking a protective order. The previous standard, known as “clear and convincing evidence,” has now been reduced to “preponderance of the evidence.” This key change will help victims of domestic violence receive protective orders even though they may not have an entirely convincing case.

Further changes to the protective order structure include a modification that allows second-degree assault victims to seek a permanent and final protective order. Official reports show that the vast majority of domestic violence allegations fall into the second-degree assault category. In addition, judges will be given more discretion to increase penalties for those convicted of committing domestic violence in the presence of a minor.

So, what do these changes mean for criminal defendants in Maryland? Lowering the burden of proof for obtaining a protective order means that those accused of domestic violence could end up with a criminal record, even if they are never convicted. Defendants who are subject to restrictions because of protective orders may face professional consequences and difficulty obtaining a job, even if they were not convicted of a crime. These modifications have significant implications for future domestic violence cases. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain the impact of these changes on your pending domestic violence complaint.

Source: WBAL-TV, “3 new domestic violence laws added to Maryland books” Saliqa Khan, Oct. 01, 2014