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Seeking a Peace Order vs. a Protective Order

Maryland law contains provisions that allow members of the public to apply for an order from the court that provides relief against various forms of malicious behavior by others.  These orders come in two forms: peace orders and protective orders.  While the relief afforded by both is similar in its scope and purpose, there are some key differences between them.  This article will explain how both types of orders work in general, and then explain the differences between them.

At its most basic level, a peace or protective order requires the respondent (the person against whom the order is sought) to do three things:

  1. Refrain from harming or threatening to harm the petitioner;
  2. Refrain from contacting the petitioner by any means (face-to-face conversations, phone calls, emails, text messages, or messages delivered by the respondent through others are all prohibited); and
  3. Stay away from places the petitioner frequents, such as a home or place of work.

How peace and protective orders work

A person may apply for a peace or protective order at the district court in their county.  The person seeking a peace or protective order is called the “petitioner.”  The person whose behavior is complained of is called the “respondent.”  The petitioner fills out an appropriate petition at the District Court, and will then be seen by either a judge, if the court is open, or a court commissioner, if the court is not open.  If seen by a commissioner, the commissioner may enter an interim protective order, which lasts until the next available court date, when the case will be set for a hearing before a judge. 

A District Court judge will enter a temporary order if he or she finds that there are reasonable grounds for the protective or peace order.  Most of the time, the respondent is not present for the temporary protective order hearing.  At this stage, the Petitioner just needs to show reasonable grounds for the entry of the order, a very low burden of proof.  This is balanced by the fact that the temporary order is very limited in duration.  The final determination will be made later when the respondent has a chance to defend himself. 

A temporary order lasts for one week, during which the sheriff’s office will attempt to serve the respondent with the petition.  If the respondent is successfully served, the court will hold a contested, final peace/ protective order hearing.  If the respondent is not served, the court may continue the temporary protective order and set a new date for the hearing.

The final peace/ protective order hearing is exactly like a trial.  The petitioner must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that he or she is entitled to the entry of the type of order requested.  NOTE – as of October1, 2014, the burden of proof will be a “preponderance of the evidence.”  Both the petitioner and the respondent may testify for themselves, call witnesses, cross examine the other party’s witnesses, and present evidence according to the Maryland Rules.  At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide whether the petitioner has met his or her burden and will either grant or deny the petition for a peace or protective order.                                                                                                

Eligibility

The first difference between peace orders and protective orders is who is eligible for them.  Protective orders are available, generally speaking, to people who are related to the respondent by blood or marriage.  Romantic partners are also eligible for relief through protective orders (so long as they have cohabitated at least 90 days in the past year), as are people who have children in common with the respondent.  You may also seek a protective order on behalf of a minor child if you are the child’s parent, are related to the child by blood or adoption, or live in the same home as the child, so long as the child would be eligible for a protective order if he or she had filed for the protective order on his/ her own behalf.

Anyone NOT entitled to a protective order must seek relief through a peace order.  This includes people who are friends, neighbors, or who have no relation to each other at all.

It is important to identify whether you qualify for a protective order versus a peace order because the groups are mutually exclusive, and failure to file the right one may result in not getting the relief you want.  Consulting an attorney can help you to decide which option is correct.

Timing

A peace order is only available if the behavior that is at issue occurred within the past 30 days.  In contrast, a protective order can be sought for behavior that occurred more than 30 days prior to filing.

Behavior that allows you to seek an order

The behavior that triggers the court’s ability to grant a peace order is different from that which enables the court to grant a protective order.  The court may grant a protective order upon a finding that the respondent has “abused” the petitioner.  “Abuse” means any of the following:

  1. An act that causes serious bodily harm;
  2. An act that places a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm;
  3. Assault in any degree;
  4. Rape or sexual offense in any degree (or attempt);
  5. False imprisonment; or
  6. Stalking under § 3-802 of the Criminal Law Article.

A peace order may be sought for any of the acts described above for a protective order, but in addition, a peace order may be granted for the following acts:

  1. Harassment under § 3-803 of the Criminal Law Article;
  2. Trespass under Title 6, Subtitle 4 of the Criminal Law Article; or
  3. Malicious destruction of property under § 6-301 of the Criminal Law Article.

While some of the grounds for relief can be apparent to a layperson, other grounds for relief have legal definitions that are best interpreted by experienced counsel.  Of particular note, there is no relief available for “threats” by themselves – threats only serve as a grounds for relief to the extent that they placed the petition in “fear of imminent serious bodily harm.”

Available relief

The relief available as a result of the court granting a peace or protective order are also slightly different.  While both grant the basic protections mentioned at the beginning of the article (no harm or threats of harm, no contact, and stay away from home/ work), the court may grant the following additional relief in a protective order that is unavailable in a peace order:

  1. If the parties live together, grant temporary use and possession of the residence to the petitioner;
  2. Award temporary custody of a child of the parties;
  3. Set a temporary visitation schedule;
  4. Order respondent to remain away from childcare providers while the child is in the custody of the provider;
  5. Award emergency family maintenance (monetary payments);
  6. Award temporary use and possession of a jointly held vehicle;
  7. Order the parties to participate in domestic violence programs or counseling; and
  8. Award temporary possession of any pet the parties may have.

Other consequences

If a protective order is granted, the respondent must surrender all firearms in his possession to the local authorities for the duration of the order.  A peace order does not have this requirement.

Examples

Here are some examples that illustrate some issues you may have with peace and protective orders:

Q) My girlfriend keyed my car – can a get a peace order or protective order?

A) It depends.   The grounds for relief here is malicious destruction of property, which is grounds for a peace order, but it is not a grounds for a protective order.  If you are intimate with your girlfriend and she has lived with you for at least 90 days in the past year, your relationship makes you a “person eligible for relief” under the protective order statute and therefore ineligible for a peace order.    If your relationship is not intimate and your girlfriend has not lived with you for 90 days in the past year, then you can get a peace order.  In either case, you may still file criminal charges for malicious destruction of property or bring a small claim in civil court for the damage done to your car.

Q) I think my neighbors are abusing their child – can I get a protective order on his/her behalf?

A) No.  You can only seek a protective order on behalf of a child if you are related to the child by blood or marriage or if you reside in the child’s home.  You should contact the Department of Social Services and make a report of suspected child abuse.

Q) My son, who is over the age of 18, won’t stop coming to my house and bothering me.  We get into an argument every time he comes over.  I’ve told him not to come on my property but he keeps doing it.  Can I get a peace or protective order?

A) No.  The grounds for relief in this case would be either harassment or trespass, which are not grounds for a protective order.  Because you are related to your son by blood, you are a “person eligible for relief” and therefore unable to get a peace order.  You may still file criminal charges for trespassing and/ or harassment.  If your son’s behavior rises to the level of assault or stalking, you may become entitled to a protective order.

Q) This guy I just met has been asking my friends a lot of weird questions about me and has somehow gotten access to my Facebook page.  Can I get a peace order for stalking?

A) No.  This is a situation where the lay meaning of “stalking” is at odds with the legal definition, which requires pursuit and fear of an imminent assault.  You should consult an attorney about whether and when someone’s behavior meets the legal definition of stalking.

Q) My wife got a protective order in District Court and the judge entered an order that effectively prevents me from seeing my children.  Is there anything I can do?

A) Yes.  If less than 30 days have passed since the order was entered, you may appeal the judge’s decision to the Circuit Court.  You will receive a whole new trial in the Circuit Court, and it is strongly recommended that you seek legal counsel.  Even if more than 30 days have passed, you may file a Complaint for Custody and Visitation in the Circuit Court, and any order the Court enters there will supersede the provisions regarding custody and visitation in the protective order.

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