Each year, the Maryland General Assembly passes new laws during their session which takes place from mid-January to mid-April, and 2016 was no different. Although the laws are passed in the Spring, many do not take effect for months after the fact. October 1st is one of the key dates where bills often take effect. One of the bigger bills this year took effect only a few weeks ago was regarding stalking and domestic violence laws.
New Stalking Law
HB 1055/SB0278, sponsored by Delegate Kathleen Dumais and Senator Susan Lee respectively, were both passed and signed by Governor Hogan with near unanimous support. The bill expanded the definition of “stalking” under the State’s statute to include a malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another person where the person intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress to another person. The new law also expands the potential crime to become a felony in certain circumstances. Michele Hughes of the Life Crisis Center in Salisbury told WMDT 47 that the bill “has been a long time coming.”
While nearly every state in the country has some sort of stalking law that can be found here, Maryland’s law was too loose. Therefore, like Ms. Hughes, victim advocates were thrilled with the change. The scope of what’s defined as stalking was adjusted to expand behaviors to include the misuse of cell phones, online chat services, revenge porn, and digital surveillance. New technologies have proven difficult particularly for younger victims and the new law will help combat the situation.
New Domestic Violence Law
HB 314/SB 346, sponsored by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary and Senator Victor Ramirez respectively, were both passed unanimously and also signed by Governor Hogan. The bill added specific offenses to the list of offenses for which an individual may seek relief under provisions of law regarding peace orders to include communications including “misuse of telephone equipment, misuse of electronic communication or interactive computer service, revenge porn, and visual surveillance.” Like the bill regarding stalking, this bill also expands the statutes to include the new world we live in. Now, if someone is using their cell phone or online chat service to harass their victim, the victim has the right to petition for relief under the Peace Order law. One of the biggest pieces of the bill is to give victims an avenue to protect themselves in case of revenge porn. This bill was also supported by Michaele Cohen, Executive Director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, along with other victim advocates.
Legal Challenges and Assistance
With new laws like these, there will likely be challenges in the courts to further define the language. For example, the new stalking law includes language around serious emotional distress and that can certainly be interpreted in multiple ways. It will be important to keep an eye on the development of cases around these areas to see how they may impact the statutes going forward. This is one reason why speaking to a Maryland law firm is crucial if you believe you could be impacted by either of these new laws.
Here at Blackford & Flohr, we have experience working with domestic violence victims as well as those falsely accused of crimes. We have seen both sides of the situation and will be a fair fighter for your case.
If you believe this new law may impact you legally or civilly, we encourage you to contact us at (410) 647-6677 or online to discuss your case. Also, you should investigate all local programs in your district to learn more about options that may be available to help you. You can also call the MDNADV statewide helpline at 1-800-634-3577 to be referred to a service. For assistance from a Maryland domestic violence attorney, reach out today.