Bill would shield those falsely accused of domestic violence

April 07, 2010|By Annie Linskey |

Marylanders might soon be able to erase from the public record any evidence that they were falsely accused of domestic violence.

A bill moving rapidly through the General Assembly would still allow victims' rights groups to view such information, a nuance that allowed the measure to pass without opposition in the House of Delegates.

It is set for a Senate hearing today.

"The bill allows us to continue to help victims," said Lisae C. Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "People wanted to come up with something that was fair. Like [in] any compromise, everyone is a bit unhappy."

The measure allows the accused to request a court hearing asking for evidence of peace orders or protective orders to be "shielded" from public view. The person who requested the order - the alleged victim - can also appear in court to argue that the records remain public.

Last year, lawmakers rejected a proposal allowing such records to be completely expunged, after anti-domestic violence groups argued that victims frequently do not follow through with seeking court orders because of intimidation. The groups also say they need access to a history of attempts to secure protective orders to establish patterns of behavior.

Proponents of removal say the bill will allow tens of thousands of people to erase a stigma attached to even the whiff of domestic violence.

Del. Luiz Simmons, who fought for complete expunging last year, said that people in a souring relationship frequently file complaints out of spite or momentary anger, and the records have long-lasting implications.

"People who have these are losing jobs, are being denied housing, are having security clearances jeopardized," said Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat. "Each year, the current law has been casting a lengthening shadow over the reputations of tens of thousands of Marylanders."

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