Identifying and Criminalizing Strangulation
Author: Womens UN Report Network
Date: October 6, 2015
Approximately one in five battered women are
strangled, and when the victim survives, the strangulation is often left
undetected and unpunished. Recognizing the danger it posed to battered women,
advocates set out to identify the symptoms of strangulation and to
encourage legislatures to enact legislation criminalizing it. Six states
currently have a felony strangulation law, including Idaho, Missouri, Minnesota,
Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma. In other states, prosecutors must use
misdemeanor assault laws, which carry light penalties compared to the
potentially deadly crime.
Because physical injuries are often absent or overlooked, strangulation has
often been a difficult crime to prosecute. But, in the 1990s, a team of law
enforcement leaders in San Diego reviewed the medical examinations of 300
strangulation survivors to identify common symptoms. George McClane, a forensic
medical examiner, and Gael Strack, a former assistant district attorney who is
now the executive director of the San Diego Family Justice Center, published the
the study. The results can be used by police to determine when a
mandatory arrest is appropriate and by prosecutors to gather evidence for
prosecution. The symptoms listed include faint pressure marks behind the ears, a
raspy voice, bloodshot eyes from burst blood vessels, involuntary urination or
defecation, and difficulty breathing or swallowing. Even where physical evidence
is seemingly absent, medical personnel can use equipment to look for bruising or
swelling of the throat and for bleeding in the eyes.
McClane notes that strangulation is an intentional act that is a serious
crime, distinguished from choking, which is “an accident that happens when food
becomes lodged in the windpipe.” Strangulation can kill immediately, or it can
kill hours or days after the event. It can also cause brain damage. Reports of
strangulation must be taken seriously by first responders, police, medical
personnel, advocates and prosecutors, and victims must be made aware of the
danger that it presents.
STRANGULATION – STATUTE – STATE OF MINNESOTA USA
609.2247 Domestic assault by strangulation.
Subdivision 1. Definitions. (a) As used in this section, the following terms have the meanings given.
(b) "Family or household members" has the meaning given in section 518B.01, subdivision 2.
(c) "Strangulation" means intentionally impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure on the throat or neck or by blocking the nose or mouth of another person.
Subd. 2. Crime. Unless a greater penalty is provided elsewhere, whoever assaults a family or household member by strangulation is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than three years or to payment of a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.
HIST: 2005 c 136 art 17 s 13
Copyright 2005 by the Office of Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota.
Via MCBW – The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
From the St. Paul Pioneer Press
New felony strangulation statute needed in domestic abuse cases
Molly was shaking uncontrollably when police arrived at her St. Paul apartment. Nasty red scratches and finger marks were visible on her neck and throat.
Fighting back tears, the 25-year-old woman told police her boyfriend had become enraged, grabbed her around the neck and strangled her — to the point where she blacked out. When she regained consciousness, he was dumping garbage on her and threatening her.
She managed to run out of the apartment and scream for help. Luckily, a neighbor intervened and called police.
Molly was lucky to survive. A person being strangled can lose consciousness in seconds and die in just minutes. Chances are, Molly came perilously close to crossing that thin line between life and death.
It was a very serious attack, but prosecutors were limited to charging the assailant with assault in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor. He served just 90 days in the workhouse. Unfortunately, that was the best prosecutors could do under our current laws. In Minnesota, strangulation usually can’t be charged as a felony unless the victim dies.
The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill to create a new felony-level crime of domestic assault by strangulation. We desperately need this new law for one primary reason: homicide prevention.
The sad fact is, Molly’s case isn’t unusual. Police and prosecutors see countless cases of domestic assault involving strangulation. We know from the research and our own experience that domestic abusers who strangle their victims often eventually kill them. That’s why strangulation is a huge red flag for future homicides.
In domestic assault situations, strangulation is one of the scariest and most effective ways an abuser can exercise power and control over a victim. A person who has his hands around a victim’s neck is looking straight into her eyes and watching her come within a hair of dying or — in far too many cases — watching her actually die.
“Look at the power and control I exercise over you,” the assailant is saying to his victim.
“I decide whether you live or die.”
It’s a horrifying experience for the victim — extremely painful, terrifying, dehumanizing — and often lethal. In Minnesota, at least 50 women and children were strangled to death by a partner or household member between 1989 and 2004, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, a leading proponent of the legislation.
A felony strangulation law will help us to save lives by intervening in some of the most abusive, violent relationships and seeking tough consequences for the offenders. This change also will encourage the criminal justice system to pay more attention to strangulation in domestic assault cases.
Historically, the fact that a domestic abuser strangled his victim might not even be mentioned in a police report or included in a charging document. Evidence of strangulation just hasn’t been necessary to prove a misdemeanor case where other assaultive behavior is involved.
As a result, we haven’t even asked victims the right questions. And so, we’ve missed warning signs for future homicides.
The proposed law would send a message to everyone in the criminal justice system : “Wait a minute. This isn’t just a misdemeanor. It’s a case that deserves further investigation. We need to ask more questions.”
In St. Paul, we already are seeing this happen. Last fall, in anticipation of this legislation, my office and the St. Paul Police Department began training police to watch for signs of strangulation in domestic assaults. Armed with this heightened awareness, police are submitting reports that fully document evidence of strangulation. In the long run, this will help to save lives.
As it stands now, our laws allow a domestic abuser to come within seconds of strangling someone to death and get by with a slap on the wrist. Essentially, we’re saying, “Lucky you. She lived. You’re going to get by real easy — even though everything we know suggests you may kill her next time.”
We need to recognize the seriousness of strangulation in domestic situations. The proposed legislation deserves strong support.
Gaertner is Ramsey County attorney.
leave the list, send your request by email to:
email@example.com. Thank you.