Protective Orders and Peace Orders

Under Maryland law protective orders and peace orders provide a means for the court to order one person to stay away from another.  In some cases they are an effective way to avoid future conflicts, but other times they are misused by people aiming to hurt or intimidate another.  Protective orders and peace orders are civil proceedings, but violation of these orders carries criminal consequences for a misdemeanor charge that carries up to a year in jail.   Protective orders also become part of the public record, and are easily accessible online via the casesearch website.  If you are a respondent in a protective order (similar to a defendant in a criminal case) your name will show up on the website next to a line that says domestic violence.  This is obviously something that should be avoided at all costs, which makes it all the more important to go to court accompanied by an experienced lawyer.

A petition for a protective order is strictly for cases involving alleged domestic and household abuse, which means the two parties must have lived together for at least 90 days and had a sexual relationship within 1 year of filing.  The rules for protective orders are listed under the family law article of the Maryland code, specifically section 4-504.  There are three phases of protective orders starting with an interim order that is heard by a district court commissioner and typically lasts until a judge may hear the case on the next available business day.  The petitioner must swear under oath that he or she has been the victim of abuse, which is defined as an assault, a threat of imminent harm, a sexual crime, stalking or false imprisonment.  Telephone or electronic harassment is not considered abuse for these purposes if there are no threats involved.   Once a judge is available he or she will conduct a hearing for a temporary protective order.  This can be done ex-parte, which means only one side needs to be present.  You can have a temporary order granted against you even if you don’t have a chance to respond, but it will only be in effect for a week until a final protective order hearing is scheduled.  Both parties must be present at the final hearing, unless the petitioner does not show up or the respondent is served and elects not to come.

If both parties appear for the final hearing the judge will either dismiss the order (if the petitioner agrees), enter a consent order if both parties agree to the terms or conduct a hearing if the parties do not come to an agreement.  Petitioners have the burden of proof at the final hearing, and may call witnesses and present physical evidence to support their case.  Respondents will then have a chance to have their attorney cross-examine the petitioner and testify if they want.  In order to grant a final hearing the judge must be convinced by preponderance of the evidence, which is a fancy term for more likely than not.  This is a much lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt that is used in criminal cases.  If the judge grants a final protective order it may last for up to one year, and be extended up to two years upon a showing of good cause.  Final orders can include provisions denying entry of a mutually owned house, and granting custody of children and even pets.  A final order will also become part of the permanent public record and is not eligible for shielding unless it is successfully appealed to the circuit court.  A consent order may be shielded from the public record after it has expired, but a hearing will be set to address this issue.  

If the two parties are not cohabitants or involved in a sexual relationship then the petitioner must file for a peace order.  Peace orders are not part of the family law statute, as they are listed in the courts and judicial proceedings order under section 3-1503.  The procedure for peace orders is almost identical as protective orders but do not include provisions involving children or pets.  If you or a loved one has been served a protective order or a peace order do not wait to contact an attorney, as there can be permanent consequences to not preparing an adequate defense.  Benjamin Herbst has won numerous final protective order hearings for his clients and is available anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.
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