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Maryland Domestic Violence Civil and Criminal Actions 

The difference between Maryland domestic violence civil and criminal actions is vast. Frequently when a person has a domestic violence charge, they have both civil and criminal actions that are pending. A civil domestic action strictly refers to protective orders or peace orders and indicates that the accused and the accuser are related by blood, marriage, or have a relationship with the person who has the protective order. There are nuances between the two that a knowledgeable domestic violence attorney can further explain, and the layer can also provide you with legal counsel.

Difference Between a Civil Action and a Criminal Action

There are a couple of significant differences between Maryland domestic violence civil and criminal actions. One is because it is civil so a person is not entitled to a public defender, they would have to retain private counsel if they want an attorney. The second largest reason that criminal and civil actions differ is that there is no prosecutor because it is not criminal, but the most significant issue is that the protective order because it is a civil matter it has a different burden of proof.

A criminal act is just that. It has criminal consequences, such as jail, probation, and fines. A person has a judge and they have prosecutors involved, they have prosecutors that can put in the case and either seek incarceration upon finding of guilt or a person could also go to a jury trial, there could be other things that go along with it. But in order to be found guilty, the judge or a jury has to be satisfied that the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it is a high threshold, which is a major difference between Maryland domestic violence civil and criminal actions.

In a civil action, however, the burden of proof is called a preponderance of the evidence, meaning, if a protective order was filed then all the person has to prove is more likely than not, meaning who does the judge believe a little more. Then that person gets it. Even if there is doubt, even if there is a question, and even if the criminal case ultimately falls flat because the evidence is not that strong, they still could have a protective order rendered against them because there is enough evidence on the lower threshold to meet that burden.

What an Accuser is Asking For in a Civil Domestic Violence Option

It is set in two ways, the primary thing a person is seeking in a protective order is no contact. The individual can make the order more specific and ask for not contact at all. They could also ask for no contact except by texting the children, or no unlawful contact.

It depends on what the person seeking it wants but other things can be granted, if there are children involved, for example, it can be a temporary custody, they can order a child support, they can order spousal support, or it can order a mental health evaluation, the judge can order that.

These are all things that can be included in a protective order and because a protective order is civil, saying charges are dropped is not correct. One of the differences between Maryland domestic violence civil and criminal actions is that criminal actions have charges, but there are no charges in the civil arena. Instead, a person petitions for a protective order.

Dropping the Petition in a Civil Action

Before the final hearing for a protective order, an individual who files it can always just walk away and withdraw the petition without much fanfare. The person can let the judge know that they want to drop the petition. Once, however, it has been entered, a petitioner must file to have it withdrawn or dismissed and they must appear for a hearing to do so. A judge wants to make sure the person is dropping it of their own free will, and they are not being pressured or forced especially by an abuser because it may look like they were forced to withdraw the petition since they just filed it.

The judge wants to see if the third person that filed it, look them straight in the eye, and ask them if someone has threatened them. If the judge feels some hesitation then they do not have to grant it and they do not have to withdraw it, but if they do feel that the parties have tried to reach a solution, want to work things out for the kids, or whatever may be, then it is withdrawn at that point in time. That is another difference between Maryland domestic violence civil and criminal actions, a criminal action will involve less intervention from the judge in that sense.

Value of a Lawyer

Despite the differences between Maryland domestic violence civil and criminal actions, a skilled defense attorney can be equally useful in both situations. If it is a criminal action, a domestic violence lawyer can help you by providing you with a solid defense. In a civil action, a capable lawyer can help facilitate dialogue between the accuser and the accused, especially if the accuser is a willing participant in the accused’s defense.