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.