The Maryland nonprofit group Court Watch Montgomery works to ensure victims of domestic violence are provided with proper access to justice, programs, and resources. Volunteers from the organization gather data from thousands of protective order hearings each year, and release a report with their findings.
Court Watch’s latest report found that District Court judges in Montgomery County handle protective orders for domestic violence inconsistently from case to case, and judge to judge. According to Court Watch, judges should be following best practices set by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). However, they found that judges only follow these standards slightly more than 50 percent of the time.
The five best practices are:
- If a victim wishes to drop their case, the judge should try to ensure the victim hasn’t been coerced or intimidated, and take some time to discuss their safety.
- If a victim does drop their case, the judge should inform and encourage them that they may return to court any time they feel they are in danger.
- The judge should inform every respondent receiving a protective order that violating it can result in jail time.
- The judge should inform every respondent receiving a protective order that they must surrender all guns to law enforcement immediately.
- The judge and bailiffs should implement staggered exits, such as having the respondent wait in the courtroom for a minimum of 15 minutes after the victim’s departure, to ensure they don’t encounter each other.
These practices tended to vary wildly. For example, one judge used these practices 72 percent of the time, while another used them only 23 percent of the time. It is worth noting that judges aren’t bound by law or regulation to apply these best practices.
However, following Court Watch’s first report in 2011, judges did increase their use of some practices. For example, in 2011, only 15% of judges used staggered exits in protective order hearings, but rose to 70% in 2012. However, by 2015, staggered exits dropped to 29%. Currently, victims of domestic violence are protected in this manner only 45% of the time.
Other findings from the report include:
- Judges have increased their frequency of warning respondents with final protective orders that they must surrender all their guns. In 2011, they gave this warning approximately one-third of the time; today it’s 78 percent.
- However, these warnings still vary between judges. One informed 12 percent of respondents to surrender their firearms, while another gave the warning in 100 percent of hearings observed.
- Judges asked about 65 percent of petitioners if they’d been coerced when requesting an order to be dropped.
- One judge told only six percent of respondents that violating a protective order could result in jail time, while another gave the warning 82 percent of the time.
The report concludes, “When judges fail to use basic, fundamental practices to improve safety in domestic violence cases, they are limiting residents’ access to the full measure of justice they deserve. These five fundamental practices, coupled with appropriate demeanor, should be standard practice and used in 100% of relevant domestic violence protective order hearings in Montgomery County and throughout Maryland.”
At McCabe Russell, PA, our Rockville attorneys can help you when you have questions about protective orders or family law. If you feel you are in immediate danger, contact the authorities. To speak with an experienced lawyer serving Montgomery County clients, please call 443-917-3347 or fill out our contact form. We also maintain offices in Bethesda, Columbia and Fulton.