MARYLAND’S TWO SHAMEFUL COP-OUTS ON CHILD AND DOMESTIC ABUSE

January 16, 2014

TO:  THE PEOPLE OF LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT 8

MARYLAND’S TWO SHAMEFUL COP-OUTS ON CHILD AND DOMESTIC ABUSE

 

Just about every year, I tell you about the failure of a bill to give greater protection to abused children.

Every state, including Maryland, has a law to require people who deal with children, such as doctors, teachers, psychologists, social workers and police to report suspected child abuse to law enforcement authorities.  However, Maryland stands alone as the only state that does not impose a penalty on the failure of these people to report suspected child abuse.  I cannot think of a law as important as reporting suspected child abuse that does not impose a penalty on those who ignore the law.

An abused child can look to reporting laws to save them.  However, an abuse reporting law without a penalty strikes at the heart of a law to protect these children.  Legislation to correct this situation will be proposed again during this session.  I can only hope that after the legislation is approved by the Senate, as it usually is, the House Judiciary Committee will approve it, as it usually does not.

The other law which only Maryland refuses to approve would lower the standard of proof for victims of domestic violence seeking a civil protection order from the court.  

There are two standards of proof – the rigid “clear and convincing evidence” and the one that allows the judge more latitude in determining the truth – “the preponderance of evidence.”  Maryland is the only state that still clings to the rigid standard of proof.  It should be noted that the lower standard of proof is the same standard Maryland courts use in deciding most other civil actions, including decisions about divorce and child custody.

Victims of domestic abuse, usually women, look to the courts to protect them from their abuser through protective orders.  Using the less rigid standard of proof allows a judge to decide the credibility of the abuse claim, but it gives more judicial latitude on making that decision.  Once again, last year the Senate approved this bill but the House Judiciary Committee killed it.

Because Maryland uses this outdated law, thousands of domestic violence victims (about 14%) are denied protective orders every year.  In 2008, Mrs. Amy Castillo, who feared for the safety of her children because of her husband’s threats of violence, was denied a protective order.  In March 2008, her husband made good on his threats and drowned all three children, ages 6, 4 and 3 in a hotel bathtub.  If the court errs in granting a protective order, certainly, it should err on the side of the victim and not the abuser.  That’s just plain common sense and it can provide the court with a way to avoid tragedy.

Please do not hesitate to contact me on these or any other legislative issues of concern to you.  I encourage and welcome your input.