Even with a protective order, victims of domestic violence know that they are not always safe. That was the case for Amber Schinault, a 36-year-old victim of domestic violence who was killed by her ex-boyfriend, despite the existence of a protective order.
Now, the Maryland legislature has taken an important step to prevent this type of future crime.
Amber’s Law, also known as House Bill 1163 and named in memory of Amber Schinault, would allow judges to order defendants to wear GPS devices connected to “victim stay-away alert technology” as a condition of their pre-trial release or probation. The Maryland House of Representatives passed the law earlier this month.
Under the law, a victim could request that the defendant wear a GPS ankle bracelet with the latest GPS technology. The technology would notify a victim through a smartphone alert if the defendant approached a location from which he has been ordered to stay away. If the defendant violates the victim’s “safe zone,” police would be permitted to arrest the defendant immediately without a warrant, another change in the law.
“The victim just has an app on her phone, with her all the time,” said Angela Zarcone, Schinault’s mother. “She can go about living her life and would know if the perpetrator came close to her, she has time to take care of her situation.”
One of the unique aspects of the law is that it allows victims to seek the added protection of GPS monitoring, as well as requiring the Maryland State Board of Victim’s Services to develop outreach material about requesting electronic monitoring devices.
Bridgette Stumpf, co-executive director of the Network for Victim Recovery of DC, and a longtime attorney and advocate for survivors of intimate partner violence, hailed this aspect of the law in particular. “No one knows a survivor’s experience better than that survivor. They are the only ones equipped to understand their unique safety concerns and the safety measures necessary for them to feel and stay safe. Knowing that the most dangerous time for survivors is when seeking support or protection through the courts, this law is a critical step in ensuring that victims who choose to access that option are able to receive tangible outcomes that actually enhance their safety.”
Mel Franklin, Prince George’s County Councilman, called the bill’s passage a victory for victims of domestic violence. “The passage of Amber’s Law is an amazing triumph for survivors of domestic violence and will save countless lives by strengthening protections against domestic violence abusers,” she said.
While the bill came too late for her daughter, Angela Zarcone was moved by the bill’s passage. “I feel like it’s the birth of my first grandchild. It’s Amber’s legacy,” she said.
The bill now moves to Governor Larry Hogan. He can sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.