In Maryland it is fairly easy for someone to get a or District Court Judge or a District Court Commissioner to issue a peace order or a protective order. What are peace orders or protective orders? They are court orders that command someone to stay away from someone else. In some jurisdictions they are called restraining orders.
UPDATE: Maryland peace order and protective order law changed on October 1, 2014. After that date, Maryland law requires that a petitioner seeking a final order needs to prove his or her case only by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lower standard of proof than what was previously required under Maryland law. Defending against peace orders and protective orders just got harder!
Maryland Peace Order or Maryland Protective Order – Which One Applies?
Generally, family members and people who are intimately involved and have lived with each other recently can get protective orders against one another. Neighbors, coworkers, and complete strangers can get peace orders against one another.
How to get a Peace Order or a Protective Order
Getting an order requires the applicant to take only a few simple steps. Getting an order can easily be accomplished in an afternoon. During court hours an order can be obtained by going before a District Court judge. After hours, a petitioner can get an order by going to District Court Commissioner’s office. Based on a short statement of facts provided by the applicant, and a few minutes of her testimony, the Judge or the Commissioner will decide whether or not an order should issue. Overall it appears as though orders issue more often than not.
Peace Orders and Protective Orders Take Effect When Served
If an order issues then it should be served by law enforcement right away. As soon as it is served on the respondent the order takes effect. An order typically says that the named person is not allowed to have contact with the protected person. This means that the named person is forbidden from going to the applicant’s home and workplace. If the named person lives with the person who got the order then this means that he will need to find another place to live right away. There is no advance notice of this eviction and the named party is usually given just a few minutes to pack and leave while the police watch.
Maryland Peace Orders and Protective Are Sometimes Misused
I’m certain that most of the protective orders and peace orders that issue are genuinely necessary to protect people who are in danger. At the same time, I am not convinced that all orders serve such an important purpose. Based on the thousands of hours I’ve spent working in District Court, I have come to believe that there are dishonest people who are taking advantage of the peace order and protective order laws. I believe that numerous Maryland peace orders and protective orders issue at the request of applicants who are not victims at all. These people use court orders as swords rather than as shields. Among this group of people the word is out: if you are mad at your neighbor, if you want to get revenge on your ex-boyfriend, if you want sole custody of your child, or if you want to get your roommate out of your house instantly, then step right up and get a court order today! Often these orders are used in place of more cumbersome legal procedures, such as evictions, divorces, child custody hearings, and civil lawsuits.
Why do the courts allow this to happen? One possible explanation is that, in order to protect the real victims who come before the court, commissioners and judges are willing to allow the system to be misused by a small number of people who do not actually need the court’s protection.
Maryland Final Protective Order Hearing
If a temporary order issues, a final hearing will be scheduled roughly a week later. At the final hearing the person named in the order will have the opportunity to appear in court and contest the issuance of a final order. While it is important for the respondent to appear and contest the order, this kind of hearing can be very dangerous for the respondent if he is also a defendant in a criminal case, or if he is involved in a civil case with the applicant. The problem is that the respondent’s testimony will be captured on the court’s record. That record could later be used to convict him in a criminal case, or to undermine his position in civil court. For this reason, most lawyers will tell a client in this situation that it’s better not to testify. Defending a protective order is a delicate operation. Deciding whether or not to testify requires careful consideration of many factors.
It’s worth mentioning here that it is possible to defend against an order without testifying. A vigorous cross-examination of the petitioner can sometimes be enough to prevent the order from issuing. Careful use of third-party witnesses may also be an important part of a Maryland peace order or Maryland protective order defense. Despite the fact that peace order hearings are usually brief and somewhat informal compared to other court proceedings, it is very important to have legal representation.
Ultimately, if the judge presiding over the hearing finds by a preponderance of the evidence (this is the new, lower standard of proof required by the law that took effect on October 1, 2014) that the respondent committed an assault, made threats, stalked, or harassed the petitioner, then a final order will issue.
Violation of a Peace Order or Violation of a Protective Order
In those cases where the petitioner got the court order by telling lies, the respondent may be in serious danger. If the applicant lied to court in order to get the court order then the applicant may very well lie again to have the respondent arrested for violating that order. It is not uncommon for bails to be set at $100,000 or more in violation of peace order or violation of protection order cases. In my experience, many peace order and protective order violation defendants are not allowed the opportunity to post bail at all and instead have to wait in jail for their trials in these cases –whether they committed the violation or not, and whether the order was granted for a good reason or not! Once the order issues then respondents should expect that it will be enforced strictly and without any inquiry by the court into underlying motives on the part of the petitioner.
If you or someone you know has been served with a Maryland Peace Order or a Maryland Protective Order then you would be well advised to hire a lawyer familiar with these hearings. It is a terrible mistake to go into a Peace or Protective Order hearing unrepresented.
Here is the Maryland Courts brochure explaining the Peace and Protective Order processes. This publication has been updated to reflect the changes to the law that took effect on October 1, 2014. It should be useful to persons served as well as those hoping to get an order.
Matthew Baum is a lawyer with offices in Baltimore, Catonsville, and Columbia, Maryland. He is licensed to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Call Baum Law Offices, LLC at (410) 929-3435 if you need assistance defending against a peace order or a protective order.