STRANGULATION DURING THE PANDEMIC
For nearly a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of nearly every person on the planet. Forced into new ways to save lives, many jurisdictions in the United States enacted stay-at-home orders to help reduce the spread of the virus. Even so, or perhaps in spite of these interdictions, Americans have seen an unfortunate rise and a precipitous rise in domestic violence cases. Tragically, domestic violence can escalate and result in serious injury or even death.
While one often visualizes black eyes, bruises, and even broken limbs as tell-tale signs of incidents of domestic violence, strangulation is likely the least detectable and the most lethal type of assault in these kinds of cases. In fact, according to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, “a victim of strangulation at the hands of a partner is seven times more likely to end up as a homicide victim of that partner in the future.”
As a result, many states have now made assault by strangulation a felony in their criminal penalty law and have increased penalties for anyone convicted of strangulation, even if the victim survives the assault. For example, in their 2020 Legislative session, Maryland became the 48th state to make assault by strangulation a felony, which in that state carries a penalty of up to twenty-five years in prison.
Prior to the change in the law, prosecutors often charged strangulation as only a misdemeanor assault. Many attributed this low level misdemeanor status to the difficulty of proving any outward physical injury from strangulation and the difficulty of proving its accompanying internal injuries which may not even develop fully until well after the assault has taken place.
In order to prove a felony assault most states require proof that an injury is so serious that it could result in a permanent disability or even cause death. By adding the act of strangulation by itself as a felonious assault in the criminal code, prosecutors are no longer required to prove serious physical injury, only that the act of strangulation took place.
Domestic violence is not lessening. However it remains one of the few areas of law in which the stay-away-from-court restrictions give way to in-person justice, as the lawyers of Emden Law can explain. As such, domestic violence is still the one area of law where hearings are held daily either in person in a courtroom or via video in each jurisdiction. As before COVID-19, a domestic violence complaint and a resulting protective order and misdemeanor conviction will still have serious ramifications for the offender. However, by making strangulation a felony, state legislatures are now giving prosecutors the tools they need to inflict penalties against offenders, including the real possibility of spending decades in prison.