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Tougher domestic violence law sought

February 26, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Tougher domestic violence law sought

ANNAPOLIS - Legislation that seeks to put more teeth into protective court orders issued in domestic violence cases faced some tough questions Wednesday from a Maryland General Assembly committee.

Several members of the House Judiciary Committee asked Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, if there was a need for his bill, under which a slaying in violation of a protective order automatically would be a first-degree murder case.

Some panel members said current law allows for first-degree charges in domestic violence killings.

But Poole said the bill is needed because many women feel protective orders have limited powers, especially in rural areas where police may be far away and unable to keep an eye on every person seeking protection from an abusive spouse.

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"Sure enough, he's going to do what he pleases," Poole said.

The current law lets defendants avoid first-degree charges by claiming the killing was made "in the heat of passion," Poole said. His bill would remove the ability to make that claim, he said.

In past years, several women in the Tri-State area have died at the hands of men who were under protective orders to stay away from them.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr, D-Baltimore, said it is unusual that the misdemeanor violation, such as of a protective order, should be enough to elevate a killing to first-degree status.

But Poole responded, "The violation of that order can have catastrophic results for the person who is protected by that order."

Poole tried to get a similar bill passed last year, but it was killed by the same committee. He said some of the opposition centered on a provision that would have required that slaying committed in violation of a protective order automatically become a death penalty case.

"Many people found that objectionable, and I can certainly understand their point," Poole said.

The Judiciary Committee would have to give Poole's bill a favorable report if it is to be considered by the full House of Delegates.

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