Civil and Criminal Actions in Maryland Domestic Violence Cases

In Maryland, a person could be charged criminally with assaulting or stalking or harassing their wife, ex-wife, girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, et cetera. That is how a domestic violence case becomes a criminal matter. It is the relationship between the complainant and the defendant that would define it as being a domestic violation situation.There is a criminal aspect in domestic violence relationships but there is a separate civil part of the system that addresses domestic violence, and those are protective orders. There are certain nuances to civil and criminal actions in Maryland domestic violence cases that only a skilled domestic violence lawyer could explain. That is why individuals who have been charged with domestic violence offenses should consult a qualified attorney that guide them through the criminal action process.

Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Domestic Violence Action

Civilly, an alleged victim of domestic violence can go to the court and seek a protective order, and that could end up with the complainant getting a no-contact order for up to a year against their abuser. A person who is a defendant could actually have two different cases proceeding through the court system. One of them would be criminal because they have been charged with assault or some other type of crime in which their spouse or their girlfriend is the complainant. In a totally different part of the court system, they are dealing with the fact that a protective order has been filed against them and they have to defend themselves against the protective order or they have to figure out the best way to resolve the protective order.

Purpose of Protective Orders

In a civil domestic violence case, which would result in a protective order, the accuser is asking the court to grant them a no-contact order and there is a whole separate section of the law that allows for the courts to do that. Those protective orders can be very, very detailed, so the accuser can be asking that the defendant have no contact with them, that the defendant not return to the address where they both live, and that the defendant not be allowed to go to the accuser’s place of employment or where they’re attending school, et cetera. Protective orders can actually go even further if the parties have children. It is possible that the court will grant temporary custody of the child and could limit the time that the defendant would have with the children.

Protective orders also can address emergency family maintenance, for example, the accuser might need money to cover their rent and utilities. It really is just the basics, but that order can require the defendant to pay the accuser this amount of money every month. So, there are a lot of different pieces of a protective order that the complainant could be seeking. This is different than what might be going on in the separate part of the court system, which is the criminal part of it. If an individual wants to know more about civil and criminal actions in Maryland domestic violence cases, they should consult a domestic violence lawyer that could answer their questions.

Implications of Violating Protective Orders

There are sanctions that can be imposed both civilly and in a criminal system if the accused is making contact with the accuser. On the civil side of it, they would be found to be in contempt of the court’s protective order. The courts can impose sanctions when they find someone in contempt. They can require the person to pay. They can even incarcerate the person. There is a totally separate criminal charge for violating the protective order. So, if the defendant makes contact with the accuser and there is a protective order in place, there are potential sanctions. On the other side of it, the criminal side, if the person has contact with the accuser, it is possible that their bond can be revoked and they would have to remain incarcerated until their case went to trial.

Dropping Charges in a Civil Domestic Violence Action

In the civil part of civil and criminal actions in Maryland domestic violence cases, the person who has asked for the protective order can go back to the court later and ask them for the protective order to be modified. They can also ask that it be rescinded. Now, if a person gives some pretty clear reasons, judges will drop protective orders, but they are a little bit skeptical when people come to the court asking that it be modified or dropped. They just want to try and make sure that that is not being done due to being pressured by the defendant. However, the accuser does have some control and some ability to drop a protective order if they ask the court to do so.

What Happens With Criminal Domestic Violence Actions?

The difference between civil and criminal actions in Maryland domestic violence cases is that in a criminal action, the accuser is not asking for anything. The defendant has been charged with crimes and the accuser has essentially become a witness for the state. What they want from that case may be taken into consideration by the prosecutor, but also may not because it is the prosecutor that will have the ultimate authority to either drop the case, take the case to trial, or offer a particular plea bargain. Often times, prosecutors have received very specific training regarding domestic violence cases.

They know that in cases like that, the alleged victim may be very influenced by the abuser. If it is a true domestic violence relationship, then they know that there is a huge inequity of power in that relationship and it is the abuser that basically can tell the complainant what to do and when to do it. When the accuser comes to the prosecutor and says they do not want to pursue the case, that prosecutor is automatically going to start thinking about why they have chosen to do so, and whether the defendant is manipulating the accused into dropping the case. Unlike civil actions, the alleged victim has very little authority to steer how that case is going to go.

In the criminal part of this where the defendant is charged criminally with assault or other related charges, the accuser is really not in any position to be able to drop the charges because only the prosecutor could enter a nolle prosequi and dismiss the case. Even if the accuser wants to drop the charges, the prosecutor does not have to listen to the complainant’s wishes and can still pursue the case. The accuser’s ability to have a say or determine what happens to the case is extremely limited. Now, if the parties are married then there is the complainant’s right to exercise spousal privilege, which means that they cannot be compelled to offer testimony against their spouse. That is really the one and only way that the accuser can refuse to cooperate in a case and basically refuse to give any evidence. So, if they are married, there is this one aspect that would need to be considered.