The General assembly’s response to the rise in domestic violence includes extending the duration of protective orders from 1 year to 2 years, with the respondent’s consent, when extension is requested within 1 year of the original final protective order. Further, Courts now have the power to “order any other relief that the court determines is necessary to protect a person eligible for relief for abuse.” Obviously, the language affords jurist tremendous discretion to fashion a remedy for victims that coincides with their needs.
New legislation also expands the class of protective orders eligible for permanency. For example, if the individual convicted is sentenced to serve a term of 5 years in prison and has served at 12 months of the sentence when found to have committed “conspiracy or solicitation to commit to murder the victim may be granted a final protective order for their lifetime. Finally, the definition of a “victim” has changed to ensure same sex partners are protected, as a person entitled to relief under the statute now includes “an individual who has a sexual relations with the respondent within 1 year of filing the petition.”
Leigh Goodmark, director of the University of Maryland’s domestic violence clinic contends an effective solution to domestic violence in the state of Maryland requires a different approach. The recent expansions of the law aside, Goodman states it is the mandatory arrest provision of the law that is prohibitive.
“The push to ensure that violence and abuse with the home is treated as a criminal justice matter, rather than a private, domestic issue, has led to polices such as the mandatory arrest of offenders and non-drop prosecution, in which victims can be subpoenaed to testify against their partners.” Goodman contends the mandatory arrest, is problematic because it imposes arrest as the only solution, on victims that don’t want it or may be further harmed by it.
Goodman states, it is “very different for a white, middle class women to call the police than for a low income women of color to call the police.” Indeed, historically parties of disparate socio-economic classes receive different treatment when entering the criminal justice system. Goodman contends an undocumented women may fear a report of domestic violence because a conviction for domestic violence is a deportable offence. She asks, “what happens when the offending party is the sole bread winner and conviction negatively impacts the family’s only source of economic support?” “What we have done,” states Goodman, “is create law and policy around the needs of white middle class straight women, and that is doing a disservice to lots and lot of other women and men.”
Goodman’s approach would be to provide victims with additional options, outside of mandatory arrests. “Restorative justice” is the term that she has coined to express the idea that victims should have more control of the outcome of their reports of domestic violence. “Restorative justice is about the harm not the crime”, states Goodman. The question for consideration is, how can we address the harm in ways that restores the victim and the offender to the community?
The handling of domestic violence in the state of Maryland, as a subject of discourse, is good thing. In my opinion, the General Assembly is moving the right direction with this new legislation, and critics, such as Cynthia Goodman raise valid and substantial points.
Nonetheless, the law cannot remedy every wrong and the mandatory arrest provision is no exception to the rule. The wife that is alleged to have assaulted her husband should go to jail when there is probable cause for the arrest; the domestic partner that threatens or harasses his or her mate should be arrested when there is reason to believe that the threat was real; and the father that is alleged to have abused his child should be incarnated immediately, if the facts demonstrate the child was harmed. The law is the law, and in this case the potentiality for saving lives and deterring future acts of violence far outweighs the negative implications of mandatory arrest.