This is a question that is being debated this legislative session in the Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill 333, which the Senate Judiciary Committee has recently passed, and House Bill 307, which will soon be considered by the House Judiciary Committee, would change the burden of proof necessary for victims to be able to obtain protective and peace orders.
Currently, Maryland is the only state that requires victims to show “clear and convincing” evidence of abuse instead of the more reasonable “preponderance of evidence” requirement.
Civil Protection Orders vs. Peace Orders
Civil protection orders are available to victims of domestic violence and also to those who suffer from violence by those persons the victim has dated or has a child in common with. Peace orders, on the other hand, are available to victims of violence done by other persons, such as neighbors or work colleagues.
Both types of orders are essential in providing protection to victims.
Burden of Proof for Protective Orders and Peace Orders
The legislation that is now being considered would make the burden of proof for protective orders and peace orders the same as that of most other civil actions, such as personal injury actions involving large awards and decisions about divorce and custody. Judges would still have to assess the credibility of the witnesses.
From my 25+ years of experience in District Court and Circuit Court, I know that that proving domestic violence can be very difficult and emotional. The abuse usually happens when there are no witnesses, and so often the victim who is emotionally upset has trouble testifying. But at least if we change the burden of proof to “preponderance of evidence,” then the victims will have a fairer chance of prevailing in court and getting an order that protects them and their children.
If you or someone you know suffers from any type of violence, harassment, or stalking—domestic or otherwise—please call the police, obtain legal counsel, and seek a protective order in court. I, and other attorneys in my office, are available to go to court with you and obtain a protective order and peace order usually right after we meet with you. We understand that in these very serious situations, time is of the essence!
Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq.