Obtaining a Protective Order in Maryland

By: Elisabeth Hellwig, Esquire

Are you eligible for a protective order?

Domestic violence is a serious problem, and victims may wonder what sort of legal protection is available to them to keep their abusers away. In Maryland, a victim of domestic violence may be eligible to petition for a protective order. If a protective order is granted, typically the order will order the abuser to stay away from the petitioner’s home and workplace, and order the abuser not to contact, harass, threaten, and/or abuse the petitioner. If the abuser and petitioner live together, the abuser may be ordered to vacate the residence. If there are children involved, the order can encompass protection for the children, as well.

Any person who either experienced domestic violence in Maryland or who lives in Maryland may be eligible to file for a protective order. To be eligible for a protective order, the abuser must be a current or former spouse, a sexual partner, a relative, or a parent of a child in common of the victim. The form to file the petition may be filed with the District Court clerk during business hours or the District Court commissioner after hours.

What happens after you file the petition?

After you file the petition for the protective order, you will have a hearing in front of a judge. This hearing may be done ex parte, which means it can be done without the abuser’s presence. At this hearing, if the judge finds that the abuse likely occurred, a temporary protective order may be granted. This order will normally be in place for seven days, after which a hearing for a final protective order will occur.

At the hearing for the final protective order, the judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the abuse alleged occurred and the petitioner is in need of protection. This means that you have to show the judge it is more likely than not that you were a victim of domestic violence. Here, you are allowed to call witnesses who can help you prove your case. It is helpful to hire a lawyer to assist you at this hearing, as a lawyer will know the right questions to ask. The abuser will also have the opportunity to call and question witnesses.

If a final protective order is granted, it will usually remain in place for one year.

Final thoughts:

If you think you may be eligible for a protective order, file as soon as you are able. After you receive a temporary protective order, consult an attorney who can help you navigate the hearing for the final order. Take pictures of any bruising you may have from the abuse, gather any related police reports, and contact any witnesses who can attest to any abuse they saw occur.

This process can be understandably emotionally challenging and can feel embarrassing, but you should not feel embarrassed for seeking help. Domestic abuse is never the victim’s fault. A good attorney understands this and can help you through the final protective order hearing.

Gun and drug possession charges reduced to open container citation

A recent traffic stop in Perryville, Maryland resulted in citations and charges being filed against a client of ours for possession of a handgun in a vehicle, possession of an unregistered handgun, among other drug related charges for suspected contraband found following a search of the vehicle.

Working with the State’s Attorney regarding a number of defenses to some of these charges, as well as some other issues with the stop, we resolve this matter down from what could have been some substantial jail time for for my client to a simple payable non-criminal citation for an open alcohol container in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.

If you’re facing similar charges, or anything that arises out of a Cecil County vehicle stop or search subsequent a stop, contact our office at 410-885-6200 to discuss possible defenses that may be available to you.

NOT GUITLY- Jury verdict- Baltimore City- Second Degree assault

Midday Tuesday, August 11, 2015 a Baltimore City jury returned a verdict of NOT GUILTY for our client in a trial handled by our associate attorney Elisabeth Hellwig. This isn’t one of those cases that will be found in any newspaper article, or even any online blogs, but it’s a great victory and justice for a client of ours who we believe was facing charges of assault in the second degree that were fabricated to further a custody dispute over a child that the alleged victim and our client have together.

These are often difficult cases to handle, as are many cases that we handle when we feel that the complaining party is attempting to further some other interest, in this case a custody/visitation dispute, through the Maryland Criminal Court system. We’re happy for our client, Attorney Hellwig, and the system as a whole, allowing for proper justice to be done.


State drops murder cases in Port Deposit area shooting

A case that I have been working as second chair on with a good colleague of mine here in Elkton, Maryland has finally been closed! This has been a case I’ve been working on with Edward Richitelli since opening my practice last year. It’s been one of the more difficult cases to handle, as it’s one where there has from the onset been a true belief that our client had nothing to do with the incident that brought rise to the charges.

When you believe your client is actually innocent, the stakes are much higher with less room for error.

After a number of successful hearings to suppress evidence unlawfully and unconstitutionally gathered by the State, as well as an unsuccessful attempt for the State to appeal one of those rulings, this past week the State finally opted to drop the charges against our client.

The local newspaper has provided their take on the state’s dropping of these charges. See the Cecil Whig article here.

Painting the picture out of puzzle pieces

In a previous post I mentioned the work that my office and I do to assist clients who were recently charged with crimes was like painting a picture for the State when previously all that exists otherwise are puzzle pieces. When the State is assigned a case, and when that specific Assistant State’s Attorney assigned to a case gets it, they’re also getting a large pile of other cases. With this obligation comes somewhat limited resources in their ability to track down all of the evidence and investigation for each case.

In many cases that my office handles, the charges were levied based on limited information at the time. The police have an obligation to protect the community against danger and potential danger. Sometimes this obligates them to charge someone with a crime on suspicion or mere probable cause. There is nothing improper about this practice. The lower burden of proof to arrest and/or charge someone helps prevent future instances of crime or potential crime. There is a much higher burden of proof to actually convict someone of the crime. If the higher burden existed to arrest, there really wouldn’t be a need for the judicial system we know today. It wouldn’t be so trial focused, it would be far more appeal focused. The stoppage of an alleged action by charging serves the community to discontinue that act, in most instances.

What I do in my office for my clients is break down the situations that upon charging either don’t make sense, or do not actually rise to the level of a crime committed.

In a recent case, my client was charged with TA 16-303(c) for driving on a suspended license. At the time my client was pulled over, the MVA here in Maryland showed his license as being suspended. The officer did not have access to the back story or the details of how my client got to where he was at that point. That isn’t the officer’s job. The officer was proper, given the information available to him at the time, in issuing my client such a citation.

The story, however, was quite different once all of the details were filled in. In Maryland, charges such as the 16-303(c) citation require a degree of notice on the part of the driver with suspended privileges. In this case, there was a mix up with one of those fun speeding camera/traffic light tickets in another state. That citation was paid, but the notice that it was satisfied was not sent to Maryland’s record division, but to the issuing state. My client received notice that his license “would be suspended by a certain date” to which he promptly responded to the issuing state, and was under the impression that everything was resolved.

Then he got pulled over, and cited for a jail able offense, when as far as he knew he was in full compliance with the law. He was in full compliance, the error causing his suspension was merely clerical and administrative.

Painting a picture out of puzzle pieces

At the trial date my job became to paint the picture for the prosecutor handling the docket that day. The groundwork that had been done ahead of time, putting into place the proper timeline for how my client had followed the law, and had done everything properly, caused the State to drop all charges against my client. Other than the turmoil of having to deal with the process, me, and the system generally, my client is back where he was supposed to be from square one, without charges against him, and no fines, court costs or jail time.


A “grand deal” falls apart, benefits our client!

I recently represented a client who quite frankly did not have the best driving record here in Maryland. Through most of his adult life, he had a license that was on again off again suspended, revoked or expired for one reason or another. Client came to me to help represent him with two separate sets of charges related to driving without his license and/or driving while suspended. Typically, when I decide to take on one of these cases I stress to the client the importance of obtaining a valid Maryland license before the scheduled trial date. Unlike many lawyers I know, I offer to do the footwork for my clients in determining what they need to do in order to obtain a valid license. I won’t pay their tickets, or their child support, or take their driver improvement course, but I can help them navigate the often tricky system that is the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Often times, there are also suspensions arising out of out of state issues on the National Driving Registry. I once assisted another client in finding counsel in North Carolina to resolve some outstanding tickets and failure to appear warrants that were tying up her ability to renew her license here in Maryland.

Overall, in Maryland, most courts will have a degree of leniency if you are able to have a valid license by your court date. This by no means indicates that everything will just “go away” but what most prosecutors and judges are looking for regarding disposition and sentencing is much less if you have a valid license, than if you don’t. This leniency is quite a bit less if you’re a repeat offender, as is with most situations.

My client mentioned above had quite a storied history with the driving system here in Maryland, and had previously done time for these types of charges. An odd scheduling and rescheduling fluke had these 2 separate sets of charges scheduled for court at the same day, at the same time, but at two different Baltimore City Court houses (Patapsco Ave and Wabash Ave.)

I was working with two different prosecutors on 2 different situations, all for the same client. Our efforts were to work out some sort of “grand deal” which would have my client offer a guilty plea to the charges in one court, and be sentenced in such a way to reflect this deal, then the other charges would be dropped entirely.

By the time we arrived at court for the first set of charges, my client was eligible to get his license back. He had to go take the driving test, and we all know how those lines can be at the DMV. When discussing this with the prosecutor, we learned that the State had witness issues on this case, and that we likely would not be able to proceed as arranged. I ultimately convinced the State to drop the first set of charges completely, which rarely happens in situations like this. I had been in on this case at a previous appearance and the prosecutor was once seeking a straight term of 30 days for these same charges.

So, the deal fell apart. Client is still facing the other set of charges, which we go to court on this week. Client has a valid license now, and is poised for an overall much better result, and most importantly should be putting all of this behind him soon!

If you’re charged with driving without a license, driving on a suspended or revoked license, or any other similar charges, call our office at (410) 885-6200. We can not only help handle those charges, but guide you in getting your license back so that this is hopefully the last time you ever have to face charges like this again!

A valid Maryland driver's license is the key to not getting a driving without a license or driving on suspended charge.
A valid Maryland driver’s license is the key to not getting a driving without a license or driving on suspended charge.

State drops all charges- Assault Second Degree

In a less serious, but equally important case, I recently represented a client in the District Court for Cecil County, facing accusations of Assault in the Second Degree(CR 3-203) as well as Disorderly Conduct(CR 10-201(c)(2)). These were serious charges, facing the potential maximum sentence of 10 years in jail  and/or a $2,500 fine for the Second Degree Assault, and 60 days in jail  and/or a $500 fine for the Disorderly Conduct. Through ongoing discussions with the State’s Attorney’s office here, issues presented with the veracity and credibility of the alleged victim and witnesses against my client ultimately allowed me to convince the state to drop all charges against my client.


There was no known media coverage of this case.

Motion to Suppress Recorded Statements in a First Degree Murder Trial-Granted

Working along side colleague Edward A. Ritchitelli, we recently won a significant motion to suppress evidence that the State felt was key in proceeding against our client, who has been charged with Murder in the First Degree, and other associated charges. On Tuesday, January 20, 2015 we argued to the Circuit Court for Cecil County, and our motion was granted. At this point the proceedings against our client have been stayed, due to the State’s intention to pursue an appeal of this ruling. Our client, a 15 year old boy, has been released from custody on unsecured bond, and depending upon the results of the appeal process, may never have to step foot into a courtroom again.

For media coverage on this case, follow these links:

Murder defendant, 15, free until trial; must return to PVHS -Cecil Whig January 21, 2015

Future of Murder case against teen in limbo after Judge’s ruling– Cecil Whig January 20, 2015

How should the NFL handle their next move…

This year fans of the NFL have experienced what seems like one of the more traumatic “off field” seasons in quite some time. While each year and each off season we hear varied stories of players who get into trouble with the law, whether it be drug crimes, drunk driving, or other interesting legal issues, there seems always to be at least a handful of players getting in trouble, and believe it or not they don’t all play for the Cincinnati Bengals any more!

This year has been a little different. Some of the troubles that players like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have gotten themselves mixed up in have tugged at the heart strings of the public more so than in years past. This has made the commissioner and the league behave in a reactionary matter far more than we’re used to, and it seems to have some fans even turning their back on the league and it’s new policies.

What problems does this pose for the NFL, and more so for the players?

While I take an often unpopular view or perspective on matters like this, I was troubled with the way the league responded to the Ray Rice backlash. I understand that off field conduct is important for the league to monitor, as they are constantly working to “protect the shield,” and that certain conduct off the field does warrant a suspension of game time. The post-rice(version 1.0) policy that a player is automatically suspended for 4 games on an allegation of domestic violence bothered me greatly. I felt like this significantly shifted the balance of “power” into the hands of people who may want to take advantage of NFL players. By no means is this an across the board accusal, but there are people in this world who will take out their feelings and emotions on an individual by attempting to leverage the legal system. Now, someone who is “involved” with an NFL player in one way or another has the ability to allege criminal charges of domestic violence, and hold that player over a barrel financially, risking that player’s livelihood and their career. Clearly the Rice and Peterson situations involve a more clear distinction of some inappropriate behavior, whether each is deemed criminal or not isn’t for me to judge with a limited “media provided” set of facts. The reality of the situation, when the league imposes mandatory penalties and suspension like this, is that anyone has the power to potentially extort a player in the league, with a threat that they will file these charges, which will not only now result in potential criminal prosecution, but will also result in suspensions within the league.

This stuff happens every day. I regularly receive calls from individuals who are charged with a variety of offenses where when investigating and digging into the facts of the situations, it seems more likely than not the person who has initiated the charges is merely attempting to further another interest through the criminal justice system. Fortunately for these clients of mine, we are often able to have these charges dropped and removed, but this does not come without cost. To my clients, that cost is obviously my fee, but also the time and stress of dealing with the situation, the possible social issues that arise from picking up the charges or being arrested, and possible other collateral legal issues. For the NFL player, these things and now the threat of losing a few games that they will never get back become the possible costs here. I can work with clients to have charges that are dropped or result in a not guilty verdict expunged, but no lawyer, no matter how skilled, can put players back onto the field for games they were suspended during. No agent can reverse the result of their client not being on the field and accumulating the stats that most players leverage their next contracts on.

The NFL and other professional sports leagues need to take a hard look at the review process that they intend to implement with these new policies. They need to make sure they are not putting their players at an unnecessary disadvantage that stretches beyond the on field/off field issues that they’re trying to prevent. Preventing and educating about domestic violence is a noble cause, a cause that I fully support, but you cannot correct one harmful behavior by opening the door to another.

When you defend one, you defend all.

This morning/afternoon I took part in an “exchange of dialogue” on twitter(conversation? Who knows what to call these things) about some of the stigma attached to being a criminal defense attorney. It was a good exchange, mostly involving fellow practitioners and especially a handful of defenders–so it wasn’t particularly adversarial to say the least. The dialogue, however, reminds me of a question that is always always asked of me and people who do or want to do what I plan to do: “How can you defend those people??” or other such statements, which call to question one’s ability and/or desire to represent the accused.

First of all, I’ve been involved in the legal profession for nearly a decade. There are not too many opportunities to defend someone in criminal court who has not been accused. Being accused is more often than not the first step in the process.

Next, I think that many people miss the point on what defenders do. Granted, I am drawing this conclusion based on why I am involved with and desire to practice criminal defense. Yes, desire to practice criminal defense. I made a point in the conversation that I think will become a very real, but soon to be very repeated statement regarding my choices and desires:

When you defend one(accused) you defend all(people).

To defenders, this is probably something that immediately makes sense. To the outsider, the non-believer, the one who believes in the presumption of guilt,  not so much. Think about it. Many of these cases boil down to the violation of someone’s constitutional rights. At least, that’s the cases you read about, typically with a headline that states “Charges dropped based on technicality”

Here’s the raw truth, that may help some shift the paradigm and begin to understand why I want to defend. You’ve got to start thinking of these charges from the perspective of accusing the absolutely innocent. Do not mistake this for some naive thought that everyone is innocent, I am not saying that. Assume the innocent person, you or your grandmother, driving down the street. Some pissed off road raged ape aggressively passes your hero, but that’s not enough. His adrenaline fueled rage is not satisfied with just passing–he decides for whatever reason to call the police, and report your hero’s vehicle for erratic driving. He states the location of the vehicle, and enough of a description of the vehicle and the erratic driving that the police decide to intervene. Our road raged miscreant gives enough of a description that the police decide to intervene.

Your hero is arrested.

Your hero is charged with suspicion of Driving Under the Influence.

Wait, what?

There was a recent Supreme Court Decision that allowed the police reasonable suspicion to stop/arrest for DUI based on the above set of “facts.”

I can’t make this up, The case is called Navarette v. California and it was ruled on in January 2014.

So what, you’re saying. The guy was probably guilty? My response to you is “so what” right back at you. If you care at all individually about whether or not Navarette was or was not guilty then you’ve missed the entire point. Because of this case, and how the Supreme Court ruled on it, the scenario I described above CAN and probably WILL happen to someone completely and one hundred percent innocent. If you’re looking at something to get upset about, now you should be upset.

Every single case influences and becomes persuasive toward other cases, at least within that local court system, or state jurisdiction. It all matters, no matter how big, no matter how small.

Defense attorneys are out there, in that moment, defending their client. You need to take a moment to realize how much bigger the picture really is. The moment a court rules that it’s ok for a bail bondsman to come barging into the door, hold suspects(not their bailees) at gunpoint, and call the police to come and arrest, the moment that anyone can barge into your house for any reason, then justify it by calling the police and claiming that there was contraband present. Don’t worry though, a colleague of mine and I did what we could to give the local newspaper another headline about that grand “technicality.

This isn’t a public service announcement. I’m not asking you to hug a defense attorney, or even call one and thank them–just think twice before spitting on our shoes.