Staggered Exit Report: Montgomery County District Courts Fail to Consistently Implement Recommended Safety Practice

Staggered exits are a nationally recognized best practice intended to keep victims safe, allowing them to leave the courtroom first after a protective order hearing, with their alleged offender leaving no sooner than 15 minutes thereafter. When properly executed, staggered exits reduce the risk of confrontation between the parties outside the courtroom and enable victims and their families to get safely to their transportation home. Staggered exits can help lessen trauma and increase the likelihood that victims will return to court when necessary to obtain a final order.

Court Watch has seen the use of staggered exits fluctuate by year and vary by judge, despite the fact that they are cost-free and pose no significant burden to the courts. As the courts emerge from Covid-related closures and parties return to in-person hearings, a renewed focus on staggered exits is timely. This report demonstrates that use of staggered exits in Montgomery County has continued to decline, even though the practice is recommended by the Maryland Judiciary and supported by the Montgomery Court District Courts.

Snapshot of Domestic Violence Protective Orders in Montgomery County during COVID-19

This informational report provides a brief summary of the number of Protective Orders granted in 2019
and 2020 in Montgomery County, at the height of COVID-19. It demonstrates that during court closures,
while their numbers were much reduced, there were temporary, and some final protective orders
granted using both commissioners’ offices and virtual options. Additionally, during court disruptions,
data indicate that relief ordered was more restrictive than during normal court operations, presumably
due to judges giving priority to more dangerous cases.

Snapshot of Domestic Violence Protective Orders in Maryland during COVID-19

This informational report provides a brief summary of the number of Protective Orders granted in 2019
and 2020, at the height of COVID-19. It demonstrates that during court closures, while their numbers
were much reduced, there were temporary, and some final protective orders granted using both
commissioners’ offices and virtual options. To their credit, when courts re-opened with limited capacity
in June of 2020, they issued a typical pre-COVID number of final orders.

What does strangulation in Montgomery County look like? An analysis of strangulation in protective order hearings in Montgomery County, Maryland

In 2020 the Maryland General Assembly updgraded strangulation and intentional suffocation from a
second degree assault to first degree felony assault, indicating the seriousness of this crime. This report
discusses this complicated issue in inter partner violence cases, noting the difficulty of establishing
evidence of its occurrence. We examine the outcomes of 226 civil protective order cases in
Montgomery County between 2011 and 2019 where strangulation was alleged by the petitioner and
examine several variables, as well as reviewing the criminal and civil records of the abuser/respondents
to determine if they had prior records of inter partner violence.

Over 32,000 domestic violence 911 calls, but there’s still a lot we don’t know: An analysis of Montgomery County, Maryland 911 database

This report examines Montgomery County’s Data base of emergency police calls from 2017-2019 in an
effort to determine whether the 911 calls are appropriately flagged as inter partner violence related,
which would enable government and non-profit domestic violence agencies to identify areas in the
County where IPV is prevalent, establish the degree of violence, provide a baseline for studying trends.
The report finds the current 911 call coding system does not track the total number of emergency calls
related to IP, using non-specific codes that do not adequately describe the type of violence reported, as
well as discrepancies between what is reported by officers on the scene and the resultant coding.

An Update on Denied and Dismissed Protective Order in Montgomery County, Maryland

This report analyzes data collected by Court Watch Montgomery in 2,997 protective order hearings from 2015 to 2018 that resulted in judges granting final protective orders, denying the requests for protection, or victims dropping their cases. In it, we examine variables associated with dismissals and denials of petitions, possible gaps in court-based or community services as well as barriers to victims following through with the courts process. Key findings are that the percentage of protective orders granted dropped from 58% in 2015 to 42% in 2018, while dismissals increased from 32% in 2015 to 49% in 2018. Moreover, since 2015 dismissed petitions have consistently increased at the same time that the percentage of cases where judges utilized best practices aimed at keeping victims in the system decreased. In conclusion, the report reiterates that consistent implementation of best practices can help foster an increased faith in the court system and thereby increase the number of victims who take the courageous step of seeking legal protection.

From “Catch-22” to Equal Justice: How the Lack of Representation in Court Endangers Domestic Violence Victims

In this report, based on data collected in almost 3,000 intimate partner protective order hearings from 2011-2018, Court Watch examines the impact on the outcomes of final protective order hearings when petitioners represent themselves. In this long-term study, a full 46% of petitioners appeared alone, yet our data indicate that significantly fewer of them have their orders granted than those accompanied by an advocate or attorney and are three time more likely to dismiss their cases than petitioners with court support and less likely to receive orders that address the specific needs of victims and their families.
Moreover, our data show that no cost advocates trained in domestic violence have an impact equal to lawyers in helping victims obtain orders and key provisions. Acknowledging that self-representation gives victims who cannot afford an attorney an opportunity to go it alone as well as the abundant self
help and legal resources available to victims who use this option, we nevertheless conclude that equal
access to justice is not served when victims must represent themselves, a problem not unique to Montgomery County. We recommend that all domestic violence victims who desire it but cannot afford an attorney are ensured free assistance to representation (either an advocate or pro bono lawyer) by the State of Maryland.

Do domestic violence victims in Montgomery County have full access to justice? A look at District Court judges use of five fundamental practices

In this report, which analyses data collected in over 2,500 protective order hearings in Montgomery
County’s District Courts between September of 2016 and April of 2018, Court Watch examines judges’
use of the five fundamental best practices we first recommended in 2011. Notably, shortly after
publication of our 2011 report, in 2012, Maryland’s Chief Judge of the District Courts, the Honorable Ben
Clyburn, sent every District Court Judge a “bench card” urging them to adopt the very same best
practices we identified. Yet, in this current study, domestic violence victims are protected as they leave
the court house far less often than they were in 2012 – in fewer than half of cases. While judges have
improved greatly in engaging victims who wish to dismiss their cases about their safety, other
fundamental best practices have remained at about the same low level they were in 2011. Of particular
concern is that usage of staggered exits continues to vary widely by judge, with one judge staggering
exits 68% of the time, while a second only used staggers 24% of the time. Among our other
recommendations, we urge the District Courts to adopt a more uniform use of this basic safety protocol,
or to adopt a County wide policy to ensure judges stagger exits 100% of the time.

Critical Scaffolding: Strengthening Maryland’s transitional financial support for domestic violence survivors and their children

emergency financial aid for domestic violence victims

In 1992, the Maryland General Assembly gave judges the power to require respondents in protective orders to pay emergency family maintenance (EFM) if the victim demonstrates need and the respondent has sufficient income. Rarely awarded in cases where there are no children, the intent behind EFM was to provide maintenance to petitioners who have children in common with abusers so they can meet the basic needs of their families during the pendency of an order and not be reduced to penury and forced to their abuser’s unsafe environment. This two-year study, from September 2015 to April of 2017, seeks to determine why only a quarter of final protective orders involving children were awarded EFM and to identify barriers that may prevent eligible survivors getting the financial help they need and are entitled to ensure their safety.