Cumberland Times-News

April 1, 2014

Protection

Bills would help victims of domestic violence


Cumberland Times-News

— When someone is the victim of domestic abuse, getting a protective court order quickly can literally mean the difference between life or death. Maryland is about to make it much easier to get that protection.

Two domestic violence bills that are part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2014 legislative agenda have cleared both houses of the General Assembly and now await the governor’s signature into law.

One of the bills eases the burden of proof for domestic violence victims who petition the court system for help. Maryland is the only state to require “clear and convincing” proof of abuse. The new law will change the requirement to having a “preponderance of the evidence” — a much easier requirement for the court system to accept.

The other bill adds second-degree assault to the list of crimes for which a victim can seek a permanent court order requiring the perpetrator to stay away.

The legislation allows a judge to issue a permanent protective order if the offender has been sentenced to a jail term of at least five years.

Currently, such an order can only be issued if the offender has actually served at least five years. The reality is that anyone sentenced to a five-year jail term hardly ever serves the full five-year sentence.

The General Assembly also is on the verge of approving a third O’Malley bill — this one allowing a longer sentence if an assault is committed in the presence of a child.

Domestic violence cases are among the most frequent problems law enforcement agencies encounter. The state’s 2012 Uniform Crime Report showed that Maryland had 17,615 domestic violence crimes that year — 22 of them involving a homicide.

The report also notes that about half of the assaults occurred between 6 p.m. and 1 p.m. Additionally, 36 percent of violent crimes occurred on a Saturday or Sunday.

The fear of domestic violence can be terrifying. Tearing down the roadblock to protective orders can alleviate some of the problem.