According to domestic violence group, strangulation or choking frequently precedes homicide but is rarely prosecuted. In an effort to change this, Virginia joins a growing number of states to make strangulation a felony offense.
HB752/ SB459 was signed into law by Governor Bob McDonnell a few weeks ago. The law makes strangulation a Class 6 Felony charge, carrying a potential 5 year prison sentence and fines reaching $2,500.
“For decades, we’ve simply lumped it into assault or battery or causing injury to another,” says executive director of the National District Attorneys Association Scott Burns to the Associated Press. “But there’s a heightened awareness that this is something different. This is far more serious.”
About three-fifths of states across the country making it a felony to impede someone’s breathing. These laws have mostly been passed just within the past decade. In addition to Virginia, South Dakota, California, and Tennessee are among those that have most recently added such legislation.
One problem, however, is that strangulation doesn’t always leave marks like a punch to the face would. In other words, it can be difficult to prove in a court of law. Police are being trained to recognize other signs of strangulation including raspy voice, blood shot eyes, difficulty breathing, and involuntary urination.
Some are worried that new laws will allow a felony charge to be slapped on someone with only the verbal allegations and no actual physical evidence.
Former domestic violence prosecutor turned defense lawyer William Umansky of Orlando Florida says the law in his state gives prosecutors “too much leverage.”
“Domestic violence is always bad, but the way I see it commonly prosecuted, there’s no ligature marks on the woman’s throat, no evidence of bruising. Just the verbal allegation, and all of a sudden there’s a felony charge.”
Domestic violence laws like this one are passed with victims in mind. In an effort to reduce the likelihood that a violent relationship will turn deadly, tough domestic violence laws are passed to stop such abusive patterns before they become worse. For the victim, this is good. For the suspect who may or may not be guilty, this could be bad.
Such charges are very serious, whether you are accused of strangulation or another type of domestic assault. But all hope is not lost. When you have a defense lawyer on your side, you know that your rights will be looked after.
Whether you are facing misdemeanor domestic assault charges or a felony charge, we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss the case against you and what options are available.