Are tougher domestic laws on the horizon for Maryland?

Are tougher domestic laws on the horizon for Maryland?

If lawmakers and lobbyists get their way, Maryland’s domestic violence laws will be strengthened. Last week, prosecutors and domestic violence advocates spoke before lawmakers in support of changes that would make state laws tougher on domestic violence.

One of the proposed changes is a bill that would classify strangulation and suffocation as first-degree assault, rather than allowing these charges to be prosecuted as second-degree assault. Conviction of a first-degree assault can result in up to 25 years in jail. Conviction of second-degree assault has a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail or a fine of up to $2,500.

In a state Senate hearing, prosecutors from across Maryland were among the 10 people who voiced support for the strangulation bill, explaining that they frequently have trouble proving the severity of strangulation to judges and juries since the resulting injuries either heal fairly quickly or are not always visible.

Representing the opposition, an attorney with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender spoke out against the bill. She argued that prosecutors already have tools to help them illustrate domestic assault injuries to judges and juries. She used the alternative light source technology, which can show bruises that are unseen by the naked eye, as one example.

The Senate committee also heard testimony regarding a bill that would distinguish domestic violent assault from other types of assault and require mandatory sentences for repeat offenders. The state public defender’s office spoke out against this particular bill, arguing that the state should not adopt a “one size fits all” approach to handling abusers. Senators raised the question of whether victims would be less likely to testify against their abusers if mandatory sentences were on the table.

If these bills pass, domestic violence assault laws will undergo significant changes. We will likely hear more about these issues in the near future.

Source:, “Prosecutors, victims lobby to strengthen domestic violence laws,” Andrea Noble, 10 March 2011

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