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Maryland stands alone in protective order law

Isabella Heegaard Rytz, special to wtop.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — In Maryland, advocates say it’s tough to acquire a protective order against an abusive spouse.

Maryland needs clear and convincing evidence – the highest standard of proof in the nation – before a judge will issue a protective order against an abusive spouse.

“It is the same standard that is required to remove a judge from office,” says Montgomery County attorney Gwen D’Souza. “In domestic cases, it is very hard to prove that someone is going to be hurt.”

Protective orders are legal documents that order one person to refrain from committing certain acts against another. Other state courts require lower standards for protective orders, including a preponderance of evidence or reasonable cause.

In all, 1,777 victims were denied protective orders in 2012 because they couldn’t present clear and convincing evidence, according to Maryland’s administrative office of the courts.

Lowering the standard of evidence isn’t the only change the General Assembly is being asked to make in regard to domestic abuse. Another bill would impose an additional five years in prison against individuals who commits domestic violence in front of a child.

“If you are using those kids to help abuse your partner, you would get extra time because you are doing this in front of a child,” says Lisa Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Bonita Sims, of Anne Arundel County, witnessed domestic abuse as a child, and her niece was murdered by an abusive partner.

“For those who haven’t experienced domestic violence, we know we can’t stop it, but we can save somebody,” Sims says.

The Maryland Senate has shown a willingness, in the past, to lower evidence standards for obtaining protective orders, but it’s been a tough sell in the House. Opponents of easing the requirements argue that the bar must be set high before forcing an individual out of his house.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold hearings on the matter.

Sims says she intends to do everything in her power to help victims of domestic violence and to persuade the General Assembly to make changes.

“I pray that they do change the laws,” she says. “If they don’t, we will be back again, every year until they change.”

WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.

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