Marital Privilege Law Sends Wrong Message

The Marital Privilege law is detrimental to domestic violence victims as well as the entire criminal justice system, regardless of whether it is employed once or innumerable times. The privilege increases victims' vulnerability and can be physically...

The Marital Privilege law presents a dichotomy. On the one hand, communities will frequently take a stance in which they proclaim they are employing preventive and enforcement strategies regarding domestic violence; on the other hand, when Marital Privilege exists and is used, it negates the proactive law enforcement efforts that have been employed to abate abuse in the community. Police officers who respond to domestic violence calls make concerted efforts to deal with these types of incidents on the street and subsequently spend a significant amount of time in court. They become discouraged when they feel their time and efforts are wasted and when the case is dismissed due to Marital Privilege. It is not surprising that officers can develop a "Why bother?" attitude, because they only end up returning to the same home again with recurring violence.

Prince George's County, Maryland State's Attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, was inspired by one of his employees to try to effect change regarding the Marital Privilege law that exists in Maryland. In an attempt to have the law repealed, he instructed his prosecutorial staff to draft legislation, he obtained political sponsors, and he had employees in his Domestic Violence Unit testify before the Maryland General Assembly in 2004. Despite all these dedicated efforts, the legislature chose not to repeal the law at that time.

Mr. Ivey, however, has not renounced the undertaking. He has, again, initiated efforts to have this Maryland law repealed in 2007. Mr. Ivey states,

"The Maryland General Assembly should repeal the Marital Privilege. The 'once punch' rule, as I call it, allows spousal abusers to influence their spouses to invoke this privilege either by persuasion or coercion. From the prosecutor's perspective, the case often becomes untenable at the point where the abused refuses to testify. We must be able to use previous statements and any previous testimony to prosecute the abuser. This pervasive problem of domestic violence must be addressed through education, intervention, and prevention as well as strong enforcement and tough prosecution."

The goal to repeal the Marital Privilege law in Maryland is warranted. It is important to understand that for victims of domestic violence it is frequently very difficult to extricate themselves from the abusive situation-- much less report it-- and go forward with prosecution. It is critical that victims obtain the necessary legal support and victim assistance from the criminal justice system that is crucial in breaking the ongoing cycle of violence that has notably destructive and deadly consequences.

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