Protection for victims of abuse through the civil court system
Victims of domestic violence can seek protection from their abusers either through a criminal proceeding or the Maryland civil courts. The distinction between the two is that the state files charges in a criminal proceeding, whereas the victim initiates a civil injunction. Also, an abuser may be sentenced to fines, probation or jail by a criminal judge, a remedy not available through the civil courts. Both types of injunctions protect the victim from domestic violence by requiring the abuser to follow certain court orders — including staying a certain distance away from the victim and prohibiting the abuser’s possession of firearms. Violation of a civil injunction can result in criminal charges.
Filing a petition for a protective order
The first step in obtaining a domestic violence injunction is filing a petition with the clerk of court at any Maryland district or circuit court. A victim need not wait for the courts to open to seek immediate protection, however. A district court commissioner is available to accept petitions for injunctive relief when the courts are closed.
What happens next?
During regular business hours, the court conducts a temporary hearing in which the judge determines whether reasonable grounds exist for issuing a temporary order. In most cases, the victim’s request is granted until a final hearing is scheduled. If the court is closed, the district court commissioner issues an interim order that lasts until the court can hold the temporary hearing. Both the petitioner and respondent have the opportunity to present evidence at a final hearing, at which the judge decides whether to grant the domestic violence protective order. An order can remain in effect for up to a year.