Proposed law to protect ‘invisible victims’ of domestic violence

Neal Augenstein,

WASHINGTON – Two Maryland prosecutors are pushing lawmakers for a new law that could add up to five years to a prison sentence for an act of domestic abuse witnessed by a child.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks are pushing Annapolis lawmakers to pass the law.

“Children are the invisible victims of domestic violence,” says Alsobrooks. “And children who observe crime, repeat it.”

“Ask any individual who witnessed violence in their home — I don’t care if they’re 50 years removed from that — a child never forgets the impact that has on them,” says McCarthy, in a joint interview with Alsobrooks.

Maryland’s House of Delegates has supported similar proposals to impose penalties against people who commit domestic violence, but past attempts have stalled in the Senate.

McCarthy and Alsobrooks say the current proposals have a good chance of passage.

Under the new proposals, prosecutors would have to announce before trial their intent to seek enhanced penalties, in the event of a conviction.

With the proposed law, the domestic assault would have to occur in the home and be witnessed by a minor over the age of 2 and under the age of 18. Prosecutors would have to prove the person who committed the crime knew, or should have known, the child was present and could see or hear the assault.

McCarthy and Alsobrooks acknowledge seeking the enhanced penalty could require a child to testify in court — prosecutors often spare children the stress of reliving a trauma and confronting an adult suspect.

“We would have to prove the child was present and in a position where they could have seen or heard what happened,” said McCarthy.

“Could that proof come directly from the child? The answer is yes,” says McCarthy. “Could that proof come from additional evidence or a separate witness? Absolutely.”

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