Pennsylvania legislators recently passed a law that substantially increases penalties for certain domestic violence charges. This law specifically addresses the issue of strangulation, now categorizing it as a felony in some cases. Previously, choking was considered a misdemeanor, known as simple assault, as long as there was no bodily injury. However, this new law changes the game, imposing more severe penalties for domestic violence assault, depending on the circumstances.

Definition of Strangulation

According to the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, it involves knowingly or intentionally impeding the breathing or circulation of another person:

  • This includes applying pressure to the throat or neck, or 
  • Blocking the person’s nose and mouth. 

Unlike before, prosecutors no longer need to prove the presence of physical injury. Furthermore, the defendant’s attorney cannot use the lack of physical injury as a defense for the victim.

Not only does this change simplify the process for establishing a strangulation charge, it also sets it apart from an aggravated assault charge. Unlike proving the defendant’s intent to cause serious bodily injury, which requires concrete evidence, the offense of strangulation does not hinge on the presence of physical harm. In the past, a Butler PA criminal attorney could argue against a choking charge if no injury occurred, potentially undermining the prosecutor’s case. However, with strangulation, this defense no longer holds weight.

Now, with this updated legislation, the new law provides a more compelling argument against anyone accused of strangulation, fostering justice and accountability.

Consequences for Strangulation Convictions

When it comes to strangulation convictions, the penalties can be severe. Although mandatory minimum sentences are not imposed, it’s crucial to grasp the different degrees of the offense and the potential consequences they entail. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Second-Degree Misdemeanor: By default, strangulation is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor.
  • Second-Degree Felony: This occurs when the victim is a member of the defendant’s household or family, or if there has been a prior sexual relationship between the victim and the defendant.
  • First-Degree Felony: Strangulation becomes a first-degree felony under three circumstances:
  1. Prior conviction for strangulation
  2. Violation of a Protection from Abuse order during the act of strangulation
  3. Use of a weapon in conjunction with the offense

Penalties vary depending on the degree of the offense. Second-degree misdemeanors can lead to prison sentences of up to two years, whereas second-degree felonies can result in prison terms of up to ten years. First-degree felonies carry the most severe punishment, with potential prison terms of up to twenty years. It’s important to note that judges have discretion in sentencing due to the absence of mandatory minimums, ranging from probation to incarceration. Moreover, individuals convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from possessing firearms.

Strangulation Defenses

While proving strangulation has become easier for prosecutors, defendants still have several options to explore in their defense. These options, applicable to other domestic violence charges as well, depend on the unique circumstances of each case. They include:

Self-Defense: The defense may argue self-defense if they can substantiate that the alleged victim initiated the altercation. In such cases, the burden lies with the prosecution to unequivocally disprove the claim of self-defense. Failure to do so would result in the acquittal of the defendant.

Pre-Trial Diversionary Programs: If the alleged victim doesn’t sustain any serious injuries, the prosecution may extend an offer for the defendant to participate in a pre-trial diversionary program. Successful completion of program requirements, such as paying fines, engaging in community service, attending counseling sessions, and avoiding further arrests, can lead to the dismissal of charges and expungement of the defendant’s criminal record.

Credibility: Establishing strangulation no longer requires physical harm to be proven by prosecutors. However, there are methods to reveal potential dishonesty in the alleged victim’s account. For example, if the victim claims significant duration of strangulation but lacks visible neck marks or bruises, the defense can present evidence of fabrication. Furthermore, during cross-examination, the defense can uncover motives for falsifying the attack, such as personal gain, jealousy, or immigration-related purposes. It is crucial to note that every individual charged with a crime in Pennsylvania is entitled to a fair trial, either with a judge or a jury, and it is the duty of prosecutors to establish charges beyond a reasonable doubt. While no proof of injury is necessary, if the judge or jury doubts the credibility of the victim, the case may result in an acquittal.

Logue Law

For your defense against domestic violence and domestic violence assault charges, trust Attorney Sean Logue and his accomplished team at Logue Law. With a proven track record of success, they possess all the necessary qualities to effectively represent you. Facing allegations of domestic violence strangulation? Call them now at 844.PITT.DUI or contact them online here to schedule a free initial consultation. Logue Law proudly serves Butler, PA, Ohio, and West Virginia.

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