Someone really annoys the heck out of you (hopefully not me, but what do I know. Im a lawyer, so I likely annoy the heck out of everyone).
They annoy you so much that you cant function. You cant eat, you cant sleep, you cant go to work. Everywhere you are, they are. It is a very disturbing situation. So, what do you do? They havent broken any law that you know of. They havent cost you any money or damaged your property. This is, as they say, a problem.
Friends and family will all probably tell you the same thing: apply for a restraining order. Which is fine as far as that goes, but there are many misconceptions about this process (and the name in Maryland its called a Peace Order if the individual is not a relative; a Protective Order if the person is a relative).
First, you cant march right down to your local courthouse and request one. There are a few things that need to be in evidence that is, you need to prove before you can obtain a Peace Order. First, you need to specify that the persons actions place you in fear of imminent bodily, or physical, harm. If you cant do that, dont pass Go, dont collect $200 and certainly dont go down to the courthouse. You will be out of there so fast your head will spin.
How do you prove that you feel as though youre in imminent physical harm?
A few different ways, to start. You can testify as to phone messages, e-mails, letters and perhaps personal experience with the person. If you have a good foundation for this, it might be just as well to go to a lawyer to find out if what evidence you have is sufficient, or just go down to the courthouse to apply for one.
Once youre at the courthouse, hearings begin immediately. Its not just a piece of paper you fill out and leave with the court. No, once you fill the form out, you will be told that the judge will hear your case that very day, so it will behoove you to clear anything from your schedule the day you decide to take this first step.
The first hearing is for a Temporary Peace Order, and the defendant usually isnt present. At that time, the judge will hear and see your testimony and evidence that makes up your case. If the judge doesnt see enough evidence, they wont grant it. If you have cleared the first hurdle, the judge will grant a TPO.
Judges usually err on the side of caution during the first hearing. If you can prove that you are really terrified of the person, and they mean to inflict physical harm upon you, then a TPO will likely be granted. However, this is just the beginning.
One to two weeks later, both you and the defendant will be called back to court for a second hearing; one that will make the TPO a full Peace Order. The judge will listen to what both sides have to say, and, upon the presentation of testimony and evidence, they will decide whether to convert the TPO to a full Peace Order. This is not a given.
Our country was founded on the tenet that people should be free to go wherever they like and congregate with whomever they wish. To prevent this type of travel or interaction is a very, very serious matter. So much so that at the second hearing, you will have to be prepared to go all out to make your case. This is not a walk in the park.
If you are granted the Peace Order, youre given an Order from the court and a phone number you are to call if the person attempts to see you and/or to communicate with you. Upon calling that number, local law enforcement will get involved, and usually detain the person. Of course, something you always have to keep in mind is that, for a very small percentage of society, a piece of paper isnt going to stop them from attempting to hurt you. But, for the rest of the population, a Peace Order is usually enough.
So the next time someone is bothering you to the point where you feel as though you need to take action, remember, you must have convincing proof that you fear imminent bodily harm by the individual you are seeking to break contact with. You also have to remember that this is a very serious matter, not one that can be resolved by simply asking the court to tell the person to stop.
However, if you are in this type of situation, give it the attention it warrants, go through the process and, hopefully, you will be protected.
Christopher L. Markham is a general practice attorney based in Frederick. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.