What to Expect in Court

Protective Orders

You are eligible to apply for a Protective Order if any of the following apply to you:

  • You are the current or former spouse of the respondent (accused)
  • Have had a sexual relationship with the respondent and have resided with the respondent in the home for at least 90 days in the past year
  • Have a child in common with the respondent
  • You are the parent, stepparent, child,  or stepchild of the respondent or person eligible for relief, and have lived with the respondent for 90 days during the past year
  • You are related to the respondent by blood, marriage, or adoption
  • You have had a sexual relationship with the respondent within one (1) year before the filing of the petition

Note: If your relationship is not one of the above you can file for a Peace Order.

When, Where, and How to Apply for an Order?

Step 1:  Complete the correct petition

The forms for protective orders can be obtained at the District or Circuit Court Clerk, or a District Court Commissioner.  The forms for peace orders can be obtained by District Court Clerk or Commissioner.  You can also visit www.mdcourts.gov/courtforms to download the forms.

Step 2:  File the petition

During normal business hours, you can file for a Temporary Protective or Peace Order with a District or Circuit Court Clerk (for peace orders with a District Court Clerk), against a person 18 years old or older, and a hearing will be held before a judge the same day.  During the hearing, you will be required to answer questions under oath.  If the judge finds that the respondent committed certain acts a temporary order will be granted (see the list of actions that are the basis for relief here: http://mdcourts.gov/courtforms/joint/ccdcdvpo001br.pdf).  The order goes into effect once the respondent is served by a law enforcement officer and generally lasts for seven days.

If courts are closed, you can file for an Interim Protective or Peace Order with a District Court Commissioner and goes into effect until the respondent is served by a law enforcement officer and lasts until a judge holds a temporary hearing.

Step 3:  Appear for a final hearing

A final hearing is usually scheduled seven days after the order is served. Both parties may present evidence.

25%

The number of women who will experience severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

Criminal Charges

Many individuals find it helpful to work with a TurnAround advocate during the criminal justice process. An advocate can provide support, information and advocacy with police and prosecutors. An advocate can assure that your rights are protected and can accompany you to meetings, hearings and other proceedings, including a criminal trial. It can also be helpful to work with a Victim/Witness Assistant at the State’s Attorney’s Office, who can assure that you are notified of proceedings and assist with resources.  A Victim/Witness Assistant often begins working on a case once it is charged in Circuit Court after the case has a trial date assigned.

The criminal justice system can be an overwhelming and complicated process especially for survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual assault. The process can be slow and difficult at times or things can change suddenly or abruptly. The following is the standard procedure from criminal charge through sentencing; however, this may vary greatly based on each case.

Pre-Trial

Access to the criminal justice system begins with an initial report of the crime to law enforcement or, in some cases, to a court commissioner. Generally, an investigation may begin following a report. There may also be an arrest warrant or criminal citation issued.  In some cases, a summons is issued instead of a warrant – that means that a defendant will not be arrested before the trial date but will be required to appear.

Although there are some cases in which a victim may “press charges” in instances of domestic or sexual violence, it is the State of Maryland who brings charges against the accused. Individuals who do not wish to go forward with a case can make their wishes known, but only the State’s Attorney’s Office can drop charges or move forward with prosecution. Prosecutors act on behalf of the state’s interests; the victim of the crime becomes a witness in the case.  That means the prosecutor can require that you appear for a trial through the issuance of a subpoena or summons.  There are potential consequences for disregarding a summons – the prosecutor can even ask that you be arrested if you do not appear in court.  If you have questions about your rights, speak to an advocate or attorney.

By law, victims of crime must be given a set of forms to complete in order to exercise their rights as a crime victim, known as the Crime Victim Notification Request and Demand for Victims Rights. Victims should be notified of pending court dates. Crime victims may also register for VINE (Victim Information Notification Everyday), which will notify a crime victim if an incarcerated offender is moved, released, escaped or involved in other changes.

If a defendant has been arrested prior to trial, a bail review may follow.  The bail is initially set by either a Commissioner or a Judge.  Typically, the defendant may ask for a bail review one time.  At the bail review, a Judge can lower the bail, raise the bail (even set no bail, which means the accused cannot be released pre-trial) or leave the bail the same.  Bail reviews typically happen a day or two after the defendant is arrested but could occur at any time in the process.

Trial

There are several possible outcomes once a suspect has been charged:

  • Nolle Prosequi (Nol Pros) means that the charges have been dropped.
  • Stet means that the case has been placed on hold (kind of a like an indefinite postponement).  There can be conditions on the stet such as payment of restitution, community service or no contact with the victim.  A stet is not a conviction and if the defendant violates the conditions of the stet the case has to be set in for trial again – the court process starts over.
  • Probation before judgment (PBJ) means that there is not finding of guilt but the defendant is given a period of probation.
  • A plea agreement may be reached by the prosecutor and the defense, which means that a statement of the facts is read into the record and the Judge will find the defendant guilty.  Usually, the prosecutor has agreed to recommend a certain sentence so that the defendant will agree to plea; at times, the Judge may have even agreed to a particular sentence.  In either case, you still have the right to provide a victim impact statement during sentencing.
  • A criminal case may be brought to trial; which means you may have to testify and be cross-examined by the defendant or the defense attorney.  In a trial, the prosecutor has the burden of proving the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt through the introduction of evidence and testimony.  The Judge may order that you cannot be in the courtroom except when you are testifying – that is called “sequestration” and it will apply to all of the witnesses.

On the day of the hearing it is important for victims to arrive on time. Victims should check in with the Assistant State’s Attorney assigned to their case. If a victim is not able to arrive on time and wishes to be present for court they should contact either the court or their assigned prosecutor.  Prosecutors usually have multiple cases on the same day, so you will not likely have a long period of time to discuss your case with the prosecutor on the trial date.

If a case is brought to trial, a victim may be asked to testify. If a victim has any concerns regarding their testimony, it may be helpful to speak to prosecutors before the trial begins. Prosecutors may be able to arrange accommodations so that a victim may wait in a different room, file a motion so a victim may provide testimony over closed circuit television or provide more specific information to the victim in preparation for trial.

The criminal justice process towards a criminal trial can be lengthy. Many survivors find it helpful to work with an advocate and other support resources during this lengthy period and to have a supportive presence at court. It is helpful to plan for all possible outcomes, to alert prosecutors to any safety concerns, and to prepare a Victim Impact Statement. Survivors may find therapy services helpful in moving forward on a path towards healing.

Sentencing

Upon a guilty plea or verdict, a sentence may be imposed by a judge or jury. A sentencing hearing may take place at a time after the trial. Depending on the offense(s), there are certain sentencing guidelines for the judge to consider. Sentences may include time served, probation, incarceration, restitution, or a combination of these. During the sentencing hearing, the victim may read a Victim Impact Statement. This is an opportunity to speak directly to the judge. Many victims find that preparing a statement takes time and can be an opportunity to express what the impact of the crime has been in their lives. Judges can consider these statements in determining what sentence to impose. Victims are also entitled by law to ask for restitution, and may work with the prosecutor and even with their own legal representative on this matter.

Jail or Probation

Once a defendant has been ordered to jail or probation, they are under the supervision of the department of corrections or a probation officer. Victims may contact or be contacted by these supervisors to report ongoing abuse, for notification of upcoming parole hearings or for updates on the offender regarding their release.

For more information, a victim may want to contact TurnAround and ask to speak to an advocate. An advocate may provide information, assist or accompany a victim, and help with safety planning throughout any or all parts of the criminal justice process.

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