Filing Criminal Charges in Domestic Violence Cases
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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 the abuser used a weapon, he or she 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 if the officer has probable cause to believe:
- the abuser battered someone he or she lives with, including a spouse;
- there is evidence of physical injury;
- the incident was reported to the police within 48 hours; and
- the officer believes that if the abuser isn't immediately arrested:
- the abuser may cause injury to another person or damage property;
- the abuser may not be apprehended; or
- the abuser may tamper with or destroy evidence.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Procedure §2-204
A police officer may also make an arrest with or without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe that the abuser has violated certain provisions of a protective order.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Procedure §2-204.1
In Maryland a "restraining order" refers to a peace or protective order. If you are being threatened with imminent harm, or your abuser has already harmed you, a restraining order may be necessary.
You may wish to talk to a lawyer about how to get a protective or peace order. The following resources are available:
- 24/7 hotline (House of Ruth) - 410-889-7884
- Maryland Courts Self-Help Center live chat
- Domestic violence legal assistance
A perpetrator can be prosecuted for rape of a spouse in 3 circumstances:
- The perpetrator and spouse do not live together and there is a written separation agreement executed by both the perpetrator and spouse
- The perpetrator and spouse did not live together for at least 3 months before the rape or sexual offense.
- The perpetrator used force or threatened force.
Read the law: Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-318
A perpetrator who currently lives with his or her spouse and threatened or used force can be prosecuted for the following offenses:
- First degree rape if the perpetrator:
- engages in vaginal intercourse by force, or the threat of force, without consent AND uses or shows a weapon
- suffocates, strangles, disfigures or inflicts serious bodily harm on the victim or another person
- threatens the victim, or someone the victim knows, with death, suffocation, strangulation, disfigurement, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping
- commits the crime with the help of another person
- commits the crime while also committing a burglary
- The perpetrator may also be charged with a sex offense if appropriate.
If you think this may be an issue, you should contact a lawyer.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Law §3-301 through §3-323
Should I hire a lawyer after I file criminal charges?
The State's Attorney's Office prosecutes all criminal cases for the State of Maryland. The victim of the crime is the "complaining witness" in the case, and does not need a private lawyer. If there are any witnesses to the assault, you can give their names to the State's Attorney and request that they be summoned.
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. The court can only force you to testify against your spouse/batterer if the charge involves:
- The abuse of a child under 18; or
- assault where you (the spouse) are the victim if:
- the charge is the second offense;
- you were sworn to testify at a previous trial; and
- you invoked "spousal privilege" and refused to testify.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings, 9-106
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 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.
What can I do if my partner has been harassing me but there has been no actual physical violence?
A victim may file criminal harassment charges against any person who repeatedly follows him/her, with the intent to annoy, alarm, or harass that individual. The victim must give reasonable warning or request to stop the harassment.
Maryland Law defines harassment as following another in a way that alarms or seriously annoys:
- with the intent to harass, alarm, or annoy the other;
- without a legal purpose.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-803
Depending on the facts, a victim of abuse may also have a case for stalking. Maryland law defines stalking as "conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another where the person intends to place or knows or reasonably should have known the conduct would place another in reasonable fear of bodily injury" of him or herself or another person.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-802