New domestic violence laws take effect in Maryland

Domestic violence is a frequently-occurring crime in Maryland. In 2010, over 17,000 domestic violence crimes were reported in the state. There were also 18 domestic violence-related homicides reported.

In recent years, Maryland lawmakers have been making active efforts to address this issue. To that end, new laws aimed at preventing domestic violence went into effect on October 1.

The law with the biggest impact is one which allows the court system to flag violent crimes in which the perpetrator shares a domestic relationship with the victim. Maryland previously had no laws aimed specifically at tracking domestic violence.

Although domestic violence has traditionally been associated with married couples, domestic partners or co-parents, domestic violence is not limited to these subsets of relationships. The new law defines "domestically-related" offenses as crimes in which the alleged perpetrator has shared a sexual relationship with the victim within the past year.

This change means boyfriends and girlfriends are now included in the domestic violence category. This increases the chances of a simple disagreement in a bar or other public place being labeled domestic violence, potentially resulting in devastating consequences for the alleged perpetrator.

Another new law allows individuals to receive unemployment insurance benefits if they leave a job because they are a victim of domestic violence.

Harassment through electronic methods is also banned under the new laws. Advocates of the law say that this form of harassment causes psychological trauma to victims, who fear future physical contact from the perpetrator. Another new law allows extensions of peace and protective orders and removal of domestic violence-related court records from judiciary websites.

Impact of new laws

The new laws will have a significant impact on Maryland criminal defense cases. If a judge finds that a defendant has a "domestically-related relationship" with the victim, a notation is placed on the defendant's record. This allows law enforcement officers to engage in consistent monitoring of the defendant.

Domestic violence advocates say the new laws give law enforcement greater ability to identify, locate and monitor alleged domestic abusers. They claim this increased monitoring helps protect victims and offers additional safety and security. However, these activities also potentially invade the privacy of suspected perpetrators.

A domestic violence charge has serious implications. It often results in a loss of rights and freedoms and harm to the alleged perpetrator's reputation.

An individual charged with a domestically-related crime can benefit from seeking the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. The attorney can provide knowledge and guidance while seeking a favorable resolution to the charge.