Anne stood on one side of the courtroom, her ex-fiancé on the other.
She wanted Nov. 2, 2018, to be the last time she would have to see him.
Her ex-fiancé is serving a six-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to kidnapping in November 2016. This time, he was in court because of Anne, who asked that her last name not be used out of concern for her safety. She had sent a request to the judge. She wanted something that could keep him away from her.
She wanted a permanent protective order.
Protective orders are official court documents that are often issued in domestic violence cases. Although each order can differ, protective orders often include a stay away and no contact order, meaning an alleged abuser is not to contact or come near the person who filed the order.
In Anne’s case, she had gotten an interim, then a final protective order, which had been extended multiple times.
Advocates for domestic violence victims say protective orders help because the eyes of the justice system are on abusers. Those who seek the court orders tend to agree. A protective order makes any further abuse an automatic crime. But they have their limitations, from how long they last to whether they can actually prevent more abuse.
Anne’s case is the kind that people who are skeptical of protective orders point out. A court order does not necessarily protect a victim of domestic violence from further abuse or unwanted contact. Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Engler, who prosecutes domestic violence cases, said that she estimated that she saw approximately 120 to 150 violations in 2018.
“So we see them very often,” Engler said.
Anne’s hearing in November lasted only five minutes. There was no time for Anne to detail the threats, the way she switched her car so her ex-fiancé wouldn’t recognize it, the months of constantly looking over her shoulder. The kidnapping.
Those in the courtroom that day would not hear the story — the story court records can tell.
Anne’s first protective order
Anne met her former fiancé at work. They began dating in 2010 and lived together from January to August in 2015. Around the second year of their relationship, Anne noticed red flags, she said.
He would try to control her.
He cheated on her.
They broke up.
They would get back together and repeat the cycle.
When they were apart, he would linger outside of her home. He wanted her back.
When they were together, he would abuse her. Two or three times he strangled her to the point where she would pass out or almost lose consciousness, she said.
“There were so many incidents where I should have left,” Anne said. “And I always came back, unfortunately.”
He threatened her or threatened to kill himself. Anne would call the police each time to check up on him. He would follow her co-workers to try to figure out where she lived. After ending the relationship for the last time, Anne said he approached her in the parking lot of her work. That could not happen again, she said.
He wanted to be friends. She told him to leave her alone. But he called and called.
One time he left her a threatening message. She would regret not being with him. He was going to be after her.
She got her first protective order, an interim one, on Dec. 18, 2015.
In Frederick County, a person seeking a protective order must file at the Frederick County Courthouse. When the courthouse is closed, though, the person goes to the District Court commissioner’s office at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center to get an interim order.
Interim protective orders are good for two days, said Blaine Hoffmann, legal services director at Heartly House, an organization that helps provide shelter and services for victims of abuse.
An interim protective order is granted by the District Court commissioners during the District Court’s non-business hours. Anne said that she went to get one on a Friday. It was served the next day.
Once the interim order expires, a person can get a temporary order, which lasts for seven days but can be extended by a judge for up to six months. The person filing the temporary order needs to go to court each time for an extension.
A person can also get a temporary order if they file an application when the courts are open. Judges hear temporary protective order cases and decide if a temporary order should be issued. Temporary orders can include stay away orders or no contact orders. In some cases, judges can order the respondent to surrender their firearms for the seven days, according to Maryland code.
Getting a temporary protective order requires less evidence than a final one, Hoffmann said.
“It’s just reasonable grounds to believe that domestic violence occurred. Whereas, at the final, it is a preponderance of evidence, which means more likely than not,” he said. “So, it’s a higher standard.”
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office makes a priority of serving protective orders, and can typically serve them in less than a day, Hoffmann said.
Once the sheriff’s office receives or serves an order, a civilian staff member will enter it into a database that deputies and other officers access. When an officer runs a person’s name in the database, it will return if the person has an active order against them or if there is an active order that needs to be served, said Maj. Tim Clarke, a sheriff’s office spokesman.
Addresses will also bring up protective orders in the system, Clarke said. Through the system, officers can also identify whether a person is with the person who requested the protective order.
Having a protective order showed Anne’s ex-fiancé that she meant business, that she was not going to get back together with him. It was reassurance, Anne said.
“It made me feel at ease having it in place,” she said.
A violated protective order
Anne was granted a final protective order on Dec. 22, 2015, four days after her interim one. To get the final order, Anne had to face her ex-fiancé in court. Maryland code allows judges to skip a temporary order hearing if the respondent is at the hearing, has been served with an interim protective order and both parties consent to waive the temporary order hearing.
It was difficult for Anne to face her ex-fiancé in court.
“Uncomfortable,” she said.
Like temporary orders, protective orders can include no contact or stay away orders. If a person is served a protective order, they have to surrender their guns for the duration of the order, according to Maryland code.
Her ex-fiancé consented to the protective order, Hoffmann said. In many cases, when a person consents to the protective order they are less likely to violate it, Hoffmann said.
That was not the case for Anne.
She had not heard from her ex-fiancé in a while. She thought he may have moved on.
But still she took precautions. She had a buddy system in place, where a friend would walk her to the car. That morning in February 2016, she told her friend to sleep in.
She would be fine.
She walked out, pepper spray in one hand, car keys in the other.
“And I walked out, and he just stormed at me,” she said. “I didn’t even have a chance to use the spray.”
He yelled at her. He was angry, irate.
“I was looking at him and he just looked really different,” Anne said.
They struggled outside. He took her car keys and forced her into her car. She tried to get out. He put his hands around her neck to keep her in the car. Then he drove off.
“And he was just screaming, screaming, screaming,” she said.
He drove the car to the Best Western hotel on Prospect Boulevard in Frederick. She saw his truck in the lot and knew he would try to switch cars.
Anne broke free and darted into the hotel lobby. She ran up to someone eating breakfast, begging the person to call the police, she said. Hotel staff hid her behind the front desk and called police.
“If the witness did not help or assist her, you wonder if she would be alive,” said Hoffmann, who handled Anne’s protective orders.
Her ex-fiancé fled but was later arrested and charged with kidnapping, two counts of second-degree assault, one count of false imprisonment and one count of violating a protective order, according to court records.
He pleaded guilty to kidnapping on Sept. 28, 2016. He was sentenced on Nov. 29, 2016, to 30 years in prison, with 24 years suspended.
Despite being kidnapped while having a protective order, Anne said she still felt safer having one. Her ex-fiancé had been released on bail after the kidnapping, and that period of time before the plea hearing was the hardest.
She switched cars. She always walked with a buddy and wouldn’t go into her house by herself. She stayed in hotels.
“It was a couple months of always looking over my shoulder to make sure he’s not trying to come after me again or take me down with him,” Anne said.
A 2012 study of more than 100 residents of a battered women’s shelter found that domestic violence survivors who got a protective order reported better mental health outcomes than those without an order. Getting an order is believed to increase a person’s sense of security and reduce their fear. Such fear can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Protective orders are an effective tool for law enforcement, too, Hoffmann said.
“There’s now an actual order that can be enforced,” he said. “And those orders, law enforcement are aware of them.”
A 2010 study of more than 200 women found that half of the women with a protective order reported a violation. The greatest predictor of a violation, the study found, was if there was forced sex or stalking in the six months before the protective order was issued.
The risk of being stalked can increase after a person gets a protective order, according to Gael Strack, a former prosecutor and the founder of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention.
Violations — which can include making contact with the victim, stalking or another assault — are typically handled in the criminal court system, unless the violation was a civil infraction, such as not paying child support.
Engler handles criminal protective order violations, which fall under the state’s family law. For a first violation, a person can be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Subsequent violations can result in a sentence of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
That is for each violation, Engler said. So if for the first violation, a person were to go to a house listed on a protective order three times, they could be given three sentences of 90 days. The same goes for subsequent offenses.
Having those penalties help make protective orders effective, she said, but she would also like to see a more serious first penalty.
“We take [protective orders] very seriously,” she said, “and they are the court’s best way of protecting victims and having some type of judicial oversight over some of these relationships that can be very tumultuous.”
But there are challenges to prosecuting, she said. One is technology. People can use apps that provide fake phone numbers. If prosecutors cannot prove a text or call is coming from a number associated with the defendant, they cannot always prove the violation, she said.
And getting calls or texts from an alleged abuser can be terrifying for a victim.
In other cases, people do not report a violation in a timely manner. If a person waits too long, like a year, the state’s attorney’s office cannot always prosecute. So educating victims about reporting violations is important, Engler said.
Victims may also not want charges pressed against a person for violating a protective order, but because it is a court order, victims do not have a say in whether something is prosecuted, she said.
Overall, protective orders are effective, Strack said. Like Hoffmann, she said that protective orders alert the court that a person is under protection.
“It’s a way to prevent future harm,” she said.
However, Hoffmann said an order is not a shield against an abuser who wants to commit violence. Heartly House advocates for its clients to create safety plans, such as changing the locks of your home or letting family and friends know where a person plans to be, and when.
“I think at the end of the day, if someone is determined to kill you, they will do it,” Strack said. “Because I think everyone would agree that a permanent protective order is still a piece a paper, and unless everyone takes [it] seriously, an abuser can have access to a victim. He knows her very well, and if he’s stalking her, he can wait until the right time to kill her.”
Another problem with final orders: They do not last forever. Final protective orders are effective for a year, unless it is a subsequent protective order. They can be extended, which requires a person to file a petition and appear in court again.
For Anne, a final order was her only option at the time.
Changing the law
At the time of Anne’s case, kidnapping was not a crime that made a person eligible for a permanent protective order. Second-degree assault, which her ex-fiancé had been charged with, was, but because he took a plea deal, he was not found guilty on either of the charges.
Anne’s case helped change Maryland law on what it takes to file for a permanent protective order, which allowed her to seek one for herself. The bill passed unanimously by the state House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan in May 2018, broadening the scope for getting a permanent protective order. The new law took effect in October.
She chose to share her story in hopes of helping other women. In addition to helping the law change, sharing her story might help other women realize they are not alone, she said.
Anne was the first client Hoffmann has had who was eligible for a permanent order, but only because the law changed, he said.
“Very few permanent protective orders are granted in the state of Maryland,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann said that he hopes the requirements to get a permanent protective order are lowered because many victims want to extend their final order but cannot because the final order had not been violated. Yet the victims fear that the abuser could return when the order expires, Hoffmann said.
“The law is more reactive than proactive,” he said.
Anne’s permanent protective order
Anne appeared before a judge, standing on the right side of the courtroom, with Hoffmann by her side. Her ex-fiancé stood at the left table, wearing a prison uniform. He had been brought to Frederick from the prison in Hagerstown.
It was still hard to see him, Anne said. “It’s always a little strange.”
She is relieved that he is in prison, adding that she hopes he learns from his time in there, noting that he has a lot of time on his hands. Hopefully, she said, he’ll learn that he cannot violate a protective order or hurt someone.
“But I feel much safer, much, much safer with this protective order in place, absolutely,” Anne said.
The judge took minutes to decide to grant Anne her permanent protective after asking her ex-fiancé some questions. The ex-fiancé had nothing to say about the protective order.
Anne said she is happy to have the permanent protective order. She still has some concerns about her ex-fiancé.
There are good days when she does not think about the kidnapping, and bad ones when she does. And there is always a concern that he might do something again.
She is afraid he’s had a lot of time on his hands while he is serving his six-year term, she said. He’s served about two years of his sentence, according to electronic court records.
He is eligible for parole.
Follow Heather Mongilio on Twitter: @HMongilio.
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