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Protective orders, peace orders and criminal defense

The laws about domestic violence have changed dramatically over the years in Maryland and all over the nation, and many people don't fully understand how they work. At their best, domestic violence laws can help keep people safe from abusive partners or family members. However, those who are prosecuted for domestic violence crimes may find themselves facing serious charges, severe penalties and a highly unsympathetic court.

In the not-so-distant past, the authorities in Maryland and elsewhere would rarely intervene when they had reports of violence in domestic relationships. Some argued that existing laws were sufficient to prosecute people if they harmed people in their households. However, this approach did little or nothing to prevent violence within the home.

Over the years, many people pushed for changes in the law that would protect people before abusive relationships got worse. Thus, Maryland law is focused on breaking up patterns of abusive behavior between family or household members. These behaviors include assault, sexual assault and interfering with a person's freedom of movement.

Those who are the victims of abusive domestic violence can ask the court for a protective order to keep the alleged abuser away from them. In cases of stalking, or other abusive behavior from people who do not live with the alleged victim, the order may be called a peace order.

For victims of abusive behavior, these orders can be important protection. However, from the accused person's point of view they may seem unfair. Because these orders are designed to protect people quickly, they don't require the same procedures as full criminal charges. The accused may see their freedom limited and their reputation damaged and feel that they have not had a chance to properly defend themselves in court.

These cases are sensitive and often quite difficult. It's important for those accused of domestic violence crimes to have an experienced defense.

Source: Maryland Courts, "Domestic Violence," accessed Nov. 28, 2014

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