Filing Criminal Charges in Domestic Violence Cases
Topics on this page:
If you have been physically abused or threatened, consider contacting the police or visiting your local District Court Commissioner's Office to file criminal charges.
There are different levels of sexual assault charges. Common misdemeanor charges include assault, telephone misuse, trespass, and harassment. In cases where a weapon was used by the abuser, felony charges may apply. If the abuser attempted to force you to have sex, you may file charges for sexual assault.
Steps for filing criminal charges are outlined on the Maryland District Court website. See Criminal Complaints.
In situations involving domestic abuse, a police officer may make an arrest without a warrant if:
- The officer has probable cause to believe that:
- the abuser battered their spouse or someone they live with;
- there is evidence of physical injury;
- the officer believes that if the abuser isn't immediately arrested, the abuser may:
- cause injury to another person or damage property;
- not be apprehended; or
- tamper with or destroy evidence.
- the incident was reported to the police within 48 hours.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Procedure §2-204
A police officer may also make an arrest with or without a warrant if there is 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, the term "restraining order" refers to a peace or protective order. Suppose you are being threatened with imminent harm, or your abuser has already harmed you. In that case, a restraining order may be necessary.
Consulting with a lawyer can provide valuable guidance on obtaining a protective or peace order. The following resources are available to assist you:
- House of Ruth, 24/7 hotline - 410-889-7884
- Maryland Courts Self-Help Center live chat
- Domestic violence legal assistance
A spouse who commits rape can be prosecuted under the following circumstances:
- When the perpetrator and spouse do not reside together, and there exists a written separation agreement that has been mutually executed by both parties.
- When the perpetrator and spouse have not lived together for a minimum of 3 months before the occurrence of the rape or sexual offense.
- When the perpetrator used force or threats of force.
Read the law: Md. Code, Criminal Law § 3-318
In cases where the perpetrator currently lives with their spouse and has used or threatened force, the following offenses can be prosecuted:
- 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 suspect this may be relevant to your situation, consider contacting a lawyer.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Criminal Law §3-301 through §3-323
Frequently Asked Questions:
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
Can my partner be sentenced to jail if they are found guilty in a criminal trial?
Yes, a jail sentence may be imposed. However, a sentence involving probation and counseling is much more likely. Suppose a person is convicted of assault and/or battery. In that case, the sentence depends on the severity of the assault, the abuser's criminal record, and the sentencing judge's discretion.
Can a judge order my partner to attend an alcohol, drug, or batterer's treatment program?
Yes, a judge can order your partner to attend any or all of these treatment programs. This is typically done as a condition of probation or attached to a charge that has been "stetted." In Maryland, when the State's Attorney files a motion, the court may indefinitely postpone the trial of a charge by marking the charge "stet" on the docket. As part of this process, the judge may require the abuser to participate in any or all of these treatment programs.
My partner destroyed my property or injured me in any way requiring medical treatment. Can they be ordered to reimburse me for my expenses if they are 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 them, 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