District Court provides guidelines for court procedures to help keep victims of domestic violence safe
The District Court of Maryland Administrative Judges’ Committee has developed new “best practices” guidelines for domestic violence Protective Order and Peace Order hearings.
“These best practices are recommendations that our courts can use to help provide a consistent approach and safer outcomes in court proceedings for Protective Order and Peace Order cases,” said Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn of the District Court of Maryland. “And they are contained in a simple, one-page document that provides a bulleted list of the recommendations.”
Included among the recommendations for judges:
- Stagger exit times – have the petitioner/victim leave first, then wait at least 15 minutes after the petitioner has left the courthouse before allowing the respondent to leave.
- Ask the respondents/offenders if they understand it’s a crime to violate an order and they can be imprisoned if they violate it.
- Question petitioners/victims when they do not want to follow through on the order, including asking whether they’ve been coerced or threatened in any way or feel they’ll be harmed if they don’t drop the case.
- Ask both parties if they understand the order and what has just happened in court, and if they understand the order’s requirements and prohibitions.
- Ask the petitioner/victim if the respondent has any firearms.
- Caution respondents/offenders that all firearms must be turned in to law enforcement and may not be in their possession for the duration of the order.
Victim advocacy groups have praised the new guidelines. “Judge Clyburn and many of his colleagues in Maryland's courts deserve credit for their attention to the small details that can make a huge difference in whether women and men who are the victims of domestic violence stay safe — and sometimes whether they even stay alive,” Laurie Duker wrote in a letter to the Baltimore Sun
. Duker is the co-founder and executive director of Court Watch Montgomery, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that monitors court hearings and, according to its website, “fight[s] domestic violence by working to improve the process that abuse victims move through in our county courts.”
“The guidelines steer the state's District Courts toward a set of practices that would do much to protect women and encourage them to use the state's protective order system to ensure their safety,” Duker’s letter continued. “The actions recommended by the guidelines cost nothing, but if individual judges carry them out, these guidelines can protect women and even save lives.”
The best practices document has been sent to all District Court judges and administrative clerks, with the recommendation that a copy be included in each case file and available on the bench. Judge Clyburn and the Administrative Judges Committee also recommended the Judicial Institute include the best practices in its curriculum and orientation programs for new judges.