Protecting Privacy in Domestic Violence and Peace Order Cases

With the advent of almost universal access to the internet, domestic violence and peace order cases are readily accessed using the Maryland Judiciary Case Search.

In the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly, advocates on all sides of the issue supported new law that will shield some domestic violence cases from general public access. As a former member of the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee and a Maryland Family Law attorney who frequently handles domestic violence cases, I applaud this measured change. The new law, that is designed to protect personal privacy in Domestic Violence and Peace order cases, took effect on October 1, 2010.

A respondent … may file a request that the case records be shielded if certain conditions are met.

Shielding precludes access by the general public; it does not preclude access by victim service providers, law enforcement officers, states attorneys, employees of the local department of social services and attorneys who have represented either party in a proceeding.

A respondent who has obtained a dismissal or denial at any stage of the domestic violence case, may file a request that the case records be shielded if certain conditions are met. There must be no prior domestic violence or peace orders that have been issued in any proceeding between the parties. There must be no proceedings currently pending. The respondent must execute a release of any tort claims arising from the alleged incident. The petitioner may object.

If there is an objection, the court will hold a hearing at which the court will determine whether there is “good cause” to shield the records. This requires the court to balance the privacy of and potential for adverse consequences to respondent versus the potential risk of future harm and danger to the petitioner and the community. For a broader understanding of the law relating to domestic violence, please see some of my prior postings on this topic.