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2002 Gubernatorial Election

Ballot Questions

Question Number 1 - Chapter 587 (House Bill 6)

Constitutional Amendment

District Court Commissioners - Powers and Duties: Amends Section 41G of Article IV (Judiciary Department) of the Constitution of Maryland to expand the powers of District Court commissioners to include issuing civil interim peace orders and civil interim protective orders when the District Court is not open. This power may be exercised only as prescribed by law or rule.

District Court commissioners are judicial officers appointed by the administrative judges of the District Court, subject to the approval of the Chief Judge of the District Court. Commissioners' powers are limited by the Constitution to issuing arrest warrants and setting terms for pre-trial release pending hearing in criminal cases, including terms for bail or collateral.

Current law requires one or more commissioners to be available in each county, at all times, for the convenience of the public and police.

Under the current domestic violence law, a "person eligible for relief" may seek relief from abuse by filing a petition with the District Court or a circuit court. Persons eligible for relief include the current or former spouse of the respondent (the alleged abuser), an individual who has a child in common with the respondent, and certain individuals who are related to or who reside or have resided with the respondent. If the court finds that abuse has occurred, the court may issue a "protective order" ordering the respondent to refrain from committing or threatening abuse. Some of the other types of relief available in a protective order include: ordering the respondent to end all contact with the victim; ordering the respondent to stay away from the victim's home, place of employment, or school; awarding temporary use and possession of the home to the victim; and awarding temporary custody of children to the victim.

Individuals who do not qualify as a "person eligible for relief" under the domestic violence law may seek protection from another individual by filing a petition for a "peace order" with the District Court. If the court finds that the respondent has committed, and is likely to commit in the future, a prohibited act (an act that causes serious bodily harm, an act that places the petitioner in fear of imminent serious bodily harm, an assault, a rape or sexual offense, an attempted rape or sexual offense, false imprisonment, harassment, stalking, trespass, or malicious destruction of property) against the petitioner, the court may issue a peace order. The respondent may be ordered to refrain from committing or threatening to commit a prohibited act, end all contact with the petitioner, and stay away from the petitioner's home, place of employment, or school.

Currently, domestic violence protective orders and peace orders may only be issued by a judge. Generally, these orders are only issued during business hours. The effect of this constitutional amendment would be to allow individuals to seek protective orders and peace orders when the courts are closed.

During the 2002 session, the General Assembly also passed companion legislation (Chapter 235) making the changes to statutory law necessary to implement this constitutional amendment. That legislation, which will only take effect if the amendment is ratified, establishes procedures for the issuance of interim protective orders and peace orders by District Court commissioners. Under the legislation, an interim order is effective only until the earlier of a hearing held by a judge or the end of the second business day the District Court is open after the issuance of the interim order.