Peace and Order

A Maryland law went into effect on October 1, 1999, which Maryland state legislators hope will provide some relief to victims of harassment and stalking. The new law allows victims to go to their county district court and request a “Peace Order” from the court. The peace order acts as a restraining order against the accused harasser by preventing the harasser from contacting, harassing or following the victim. The law was enacted to deal with relationships of couples who don’t live together and who are covered by the domestic violence statute.

The intention of the law was to provide victims of harassment and stalking with some immediate relief from their harasser or stalker as well as from other forms of violence. Prior to the enactment of the peace order law, victims had to rely on restraining orders and the criminal stalking and harassment laws. The problem with the previous laws was that they were limited by the fact that you had to clearly show that the harasser or stalker posed severe threat to the safety and health of the victim before something could be done. Many times, the only way to prove this was by showing that the harasser or stalker had already attempted to harm or had threatened to harm the victim. In other words, a person has to be a victim of some action by the harasser or stalker before any action would be taken.

The peace order law allows a person to go into the county district court, fill out a petition, and present his/her petition to a judge all in one day. The judge will then review the petition and ask the alleged victim questions. If the judge is convinced that there is a possibility that the petitioner is being harassed or stalked, the judge will issue a temporary peace order against the suspected harasser, stalker, and other forms of threats or violence and set a hearing date within seven days. The peace order is then served on the suspected harasser or stalker by the police or the sheriff. The suspected harasser or stalker or individual who has committed violence then attends the hearing where he or she has the opportunity to present his or her own version of the situation. The judge then decides whether to extend or to revoke the peace order.

Should a person violate the peace order, he/she is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor, subject to a fine up to $1000.00, and can be imprisoned for up to ninety (90) days. These penalties are, in part, designed to deter but also to provide the victim valuable time to file charges against the harasser or stalker or to seek a full restraining order. The peace order is not designed to be a complete solution to harassment or stalking but only to provide victims some relief before the harasser’s or stalker’s actions reach a level warranting serious criminal charges.

The law does have some critics. The main argument is that the standards for receiving a peace order are so low that anyone can get a peace order against anyone else. A neighbor can get a peace order against another neighbor for looking at him while he mows the lawn or a fellow employee can get one against you because you borrowed a pencil from his desk. Critics of the law even say that the peace order itself can be used to harass innocent people.

Whether the law will provide needed relief to victims of harassment and stalking or will be misused as a tool of harassment itself remains to be seen. However, peace orders when used properly can provide added protection against harassers and stalkers or perpetrators of other forms of violence. If your are the victim of harassment, stalking, or some other form of violence, please give us a call. We can provide you with the information you need to stop it.

Call me for a free initial consultation at 410 730 4404.