If you have been physically abused or threatened, you may consider contacting the police or visiting your local District Court Commissioner's Office to file criminal charges.

Typical misdemeanor charges are assault, telephone misuse, trespass and harassment. If a weapon is used, an abuser may be charged with a felony. If the abuser tried to force you to have sex, you may file charges for sexual assault. There are different levels of sexual assault.

Steps for filing criminal charges are outlined on the Maryland District Court website. See Criminal Complaints.

A police officer may make an arrest without a warrant for domestic abuse not committed in the officer's presence if the officer has probable cause to believe:

  • the perpetrator battered his or her spouse or another person with whom the perpetrator lives;
  • there is evidence of physical injury;
  • the incident was reported to the police within 48 hours; and
  • the officer believes that one of the following circumstances will occur unless the person is immediately arrested:
    • the perpetrator may cause injury to another person or damage property;
    • the perpetrator may not be apprehended;
    • the perpetrator may tamper with or destroy evidence.

Read the Law: MD Code, Crim. Proc. §2-203

A police officer may also make an arrest with or without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that the perpetrator has violated certain provisions of a protective order.

Read the Law: MD Code, Crim. Proc. §2-204

Should I hire a lawyer after I file criminal charges?

In all criminal cases, the State's Attorney's Office prosecutes the case on behalf of the State of Maryland.  The victim of the crime is the "complaining witness" in the case, so no private attorney is necessary. If there are any witnesses to the assault, the names should be provided to the State's Attorney with a request that they be summonsed.

Restraining Orders

In Maryland a "restraining order" refers to a peace or protective order.  When you are threatened with imminent harm, or have already been harmed in some way by your abuser, a restraining order may be necessary.

You may wish to talk to a lawyer about how to get a protective or peace order. Contact one of the Domestic Violence legal clinics in Maryland or call the House of Ruth at 1-888-880-7884.

Marital Rape

Currently, a person may be prosecuted under the rape law if the parties 1) have lived "separate and apart" without sexual relations (not living together) and there is a written separation agreement executed by both parties; or 2) have lived "separate and apart" without sexual relations without a separation agreement for at least three months immediately before the sexual offense.

A person may be prosecuted for an offense described below if the parties are living together and the person uses force against the will and without consent of the person's legal spouse.

  • First degree rape if the person engages in vaginal intercourse by force or threat of force against the will and without the consent of the other person AND employs a dangerous weapon; suffocates, strangles, disfigures or inflicts serious bodily injury on the victim; threatens or places the victim in fear of death, suffication, strangulation, disfigurement, serious physical injury, or kidnapping; commits the crime with the help of another person; or commits the crime while also committing a burglary.
  • There are also four degrees of sexual offense.

If you think this may be an issue, you should contact a lawyer.

Read the Law: MD Code, Crim. Law §3-301 through §3-323

If I am married to my abuser do I have to testify against him/her?

In Maryland, you do not have to testify against your abuser if you are married to each other. This is called spousal privilege. If you have claimed spousal privilege once before in an abuse case (a case against the same abuser) the court may not allow you to claim that privilege a second (or third) time and the court may require that you testify. Maryland can force you to testify against your spouse/batterer on a charge of assault and battery if:

  • you are married to the abuser and
  • the charge is the second offense within the same year and
  • you refused to testify when sworn in at a previous trial invoking "spousal privilege."; or
  • if the charge involves the abuse of a child under 18.

If my partner is found guilty in a criminal trial, can he/she be sentenced to jail?

Yes, a jail sentence may be imposed. However, a sentence involving probation and counseling is much more likely. If a person is convicted of assault and/or battery, the sentence imposed by the judge will depend on the severity of the assault, the abuser's criminal record and the discretion of the sentencing judge.

Can a judge order my partner to attend an alcohol, drug, or batterer's treatment program?

Yes, a judge may order an abuser to any or all of these treatment programs, usually as a condition of probation or attached to a charge that has been "stetted". (Upon motion of the State's Attorney, the court may indefinitely postpone trial of a charge by marking the charge "stet" on the docket.)

If my partner destroys my property or injures me in any way which requires medical treatment, can he/she be ordered to reimburse me for my expenses if he/she is found guilty at a criminal trial?

Yes. A judge can order a convicted abuser to pay restitution for damage to property or for injury to the victim. It may also be possible to get reimbursed as part of a divorce action or in a civil suit for assault.


Drawn from the collective materials of the Maryland Domestic Violence Services Providers community with key materials from the House of Ruth and The Women's Law Center of Maryland, Inc. Compiled, edited by Jessica Nhem, and updated by Deena Hausner, Esq.

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Is this legal advice?

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