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Gracie News

Law makes Choking a Felony

May 11, 2012

Twenty-nine states and counting are doing their part to pass laws to make choking a felony. States are targeting these incidents because studies have shown; when an abuser tries to strangle someone in a domestic assault the victim is 10 times more likely to be killed at some point by the abuser. Before the new law, such an attack would be classified as harassment or a misdemeanor which would only put the abuser in jail for, at most, a few days, putting them back out on the street to attack again or do further damage.

By Neale Gulley

(Reuters) - Strangulation, common in domestic abuse cases, is now a crime in New York and already 2,000 people have been arrested under the weeks-old law, authorities said on Thursday.

Police and prosecutors, who in the past had difficulty prosecuting such cases because of the lack of visible physical injuries, said the law clearly was needed.

The 2,000 arrests on choking charges in the first 15 weeks since the law took effect are "absolutely unprecedented and staggering," said Sean Byrne, acting commissioner for the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services.

In the past, in cases lacking physical evidence as obvious as a bruise, authorities were forced to lower charges against the perpetrator to a non-criminal count of harassment.

Now, the new law allows a criminal count of obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, which can be proven with other courtroom tools, including witness testimony, Byrne said.

Similar laws have been passed in California, and discussed in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and elsewhere in the nation.

"Strangulation is a tactic of power and control that is very common in domestic violence scenarios," said Amy Barasch, executive director of the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Victims sometimes lose consciousness, which can lead to brain damage, she said.

Authorities say the new law recognizes the seriousness of the offense, and has teeth sharp enough to keep a convicted offender behind bars or under scrutiny for life. Under the new strangulation law, anyone convicted of either felony or misdemeanor counts must submit a DNA sample to authorities -- not usually required in misdemeanor cases.

"Domestic abusers aren't usually first-time offenders and we're expecting to see that as people get convicted of these offenses it will lead to solving other crimes," Byrne said.

According to arrests statistics from November 11, 2010 to February 22, 2011, there were 2,000 people arrested under the new law, about 60 percent of them in New York City.

Of those charged, 94 percent were males, the vast majority of whom were in their 20s, according to the report.

Barasch offered a bleak picture of domestic abuse and the role strangulation too often plays. She said research indicates women in abusive relationships who are at some point strangled by their abuser are 10 times more likely to be killed at some point.

Byrne said 44 percent of all women killed in the state in 2009 (the most recent data) were killed as the result of domestic violence, and such abuse is "the single largest subcategory of aggravated assault in New York."

About 10 percent of violent deaths in the United States each year are due to strangulation, with six female victims to every male, according to data from the New York Prosecutors Training Institute. Advocates against domestic violence, including Barasch, often say only about half of such incidents are ever reported to police.

New choking law could serve to protect victims of domestic violence


A new law that makes choking someone a felony could spark the first citywide crime increase in 20 years, police records show.

Crime has been down every year since 1991, but this year serious offenses are running about even compared to 2010. There were 67,469 so-called index crimes - including murders, rapes, robberies and burglaries - through Sunday. Records show there was one less crime through Aug. 28, 2010.

Murders are down 9% and 70 fewer people have been shot this year. But felony assaults are up nearly 8%, from 11,371 to 12,238.

Of the felony assaults this year, 1,284 involved victims who were grabbed around the throat, usually women attacked by their husbands or boyfriends.

The law took effect last November and makes it a felony to choke someone - even if the victim has no sign of injury. Before the new law, such an attack would be classified as harassment or a misdemeanor.

Without a change in the law, serious crime would be down 4% this year, police said. The tradeoff, officials say, is that violent suspects now face harsher penalties.

"The reality is that in domestic violence cases, the victims, usually women, are grabbed around the neck and choked and the new law makes it a felony," said Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, the NYPD's top spokesman. "That's a good thing. There is no reason not to make it a serious offense and to treat it as a felony."

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Queens) welcomed the new law.

"The concern was that a lot of these women did everything right," Ferreras said. "They got the order of protection. They contacted police and then the person who attacked them was back out on the street in one or two days."

To learn more about protecting yourself against domestic violence, regardless of age or athletic ability, visit: