Strangulation Now a Standalone Offense
October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Pennsylvania legislatures proved that they are not only aware of the problem, but they are trying to protect victims from further abuse. On October 26, 2016, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law an act that makes strangulation its own crime. Originally introduced as House Bill 1581, the new law makes strangulation a misdemeanor offense unless additional circumstances are present, such as if the victim is a relative, spouse or romantic partner. In a domestic violence situation, prosecutors can charge strangulation as a first or second-degree felony.
If you are facing charges for strangulation or domestic violence, contact an experienced Pittsburgh assault lawyer at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC at (412) 281-2146 to learn about this new law and how you can best defend yourself in court. False accusations of domestic violence are incredibly damaging to your reputation in the community and at work. They can also weaken your relationship with your family and children. Now with this new law, you could face additional charges and potential penalties based on false allegations or rumors.
More on HB 1581
The act amends Title 18, Pennsylvania’s crimes and offenses, and creates Section 2718, which defines strangulation as an independent crime. You can now be charged with strangulation without being charged with any other offense. However, you can also be charged with strangulation in addition to other crimes such as assault or domestic violence. Under the new law, strangulations is defined as any individual knowingly or intentionally impeding the breathing or circulation of blood of another person by:
- Applying pressure to the neck or throat, or
- Blocking the nose and mouth of the person.
Limited Defenses to the Crime
The law specifically states that the offense does not require the victim to suffer a physical injury. The victim does not have to have bruises or any physical signs that the strangulation occurred. This was a key component of the law. Advocates for domestic abuse victims find strangulation and choking are often overlooked or cannot lead to criminal charges because they occur without leaving any marks.
“…Choking a victim is a red flag for extreme violence,” stated Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. “However, such cases historically were difficult to prosecute because the conduct often does not leave visible injuries, despite both the life-threatening result and the psychological harm inflicted on the victim. This legislation closes that loophole,” The Mercury News reported.
If you have been falsely accused of strangulation, you will not be able to use a lack of physical evidence as a defense. You need a skilled Pittsburgh assault lawyer to build you a strong defense that does not rely on this stance.
Penalties for Strangulation
A violation of Section 2718 can result in a second-degree misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 2 years in prison. However, strangulation will be charged as a second-degree felony if it is committed:
- Against a family or household member,
- By a caretaker and against a defendant individual, or
- In conjunction with sexual violence, related to stalking, or related to human trafficking.
A second-degree felony can result in up to 10 years of imprisonment. Additionally, prosecutors can charge strangulation as a first degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, if:
- At the time of the incident, the offender was subject to an active protection from abuse order or a sexual violence or intimidation protection order,
- The offender used an instrument of crime, or
- The offender has previously been convicted of a felony offense under this law or a substantially similar offense in another jurisdiction.
In addition to imprisonment, you will have a permanent criminal record have to pay hefty fines. Once you complete your sentence, you may be required to live within the confines of probation. Both the terms of your probation and the presence of a criminal record on a background check can make it difficult to go to school, obtain a professional license, get a good job, rent affordable housing, or even obtain loans.
Battling Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania
The purpose behind the new law is to provide prosecutors with another way to protect domestic abuse victims and to bring perpetrators of domestic violence to court. Studies and domestic violence organizations have found choking or strangulation is a common violent act in domestic abuse situations and is often a precursor to domestic violence homicide. Pennsylvania legislators hope that offenders can be caught and prosecuted instead of being allowed to continue or escalate a violent situation.
Defending Against This New Offense
If you have been charged with strangulation, assault or an act of domestic violence, contact Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146. Whether the charges arose from false claims or due to a misunderstanding, we are ready to take on your case and develop the strongest defense possible under the law. We understand how difficult this situation is for you and your family, which is why we offer compassionate yet aggressive legal representation. We will always fight for the best possible outcome for you.