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New guidelines may help Maryland domestic violence victims

A set of new guidelines to Maryland's district court judges may ease the process for domestic violence victims who are seeking protection from an abusive spouse of significant other.

The new guidelines, promulgated by the chief judge of Maryland's district court as well as the Administrative Judges Committee, aim to encourage more of the 70,000 Maryland women who are victims of domestic violence to seek a protective order from Maryland's courts.

One of these guidelines suggests that judges require an alleged abuser to wait 15 minutes before leaving the courtroom at the end of a protective order hearing so that an alleged victim can get to his or her car without being harassed. Some women have reported getting intimidated by their abusers as they both left the courtroom, and one woman even reported that her former boyfriend attempted to hit her with his car.

Another guideline recommends that judges clearly warn those against whom they issue a protective order that violating the order could lead to an arrest, a criminal conviction and incarceration. The hope seems to be that the warning will deter alleged abusers from annoying victims and may increase the chances that a person who does violate a protective order will be held accountable for doing so.

In addition to other recommendations, the guidelines also suggest that when a person comes to court and asks not to pursue a protective order further, the court should question that person to make sure that really is his or her voluntary choice and not the result of a threat or other coercion.

Hopefully, these new rules will help ensure that the people who are entitled to protective orders trust the court system enough to obtain them. An attorney who is knowledgeable about Maryland's domestic violence laws can often help a victim of abuse feel more at ease about the court process and can be useful in making the process less agonizing and more efficient.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Making court process safer for women," Laurie Duker, Nov. 2, 2012

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