Recently, Pennsylvania legislators passed a new law that significantly increases the penalties for certain domestic violence charges. Specifically, the new strangulation statute now categorizes choking a domestic partner or family member as a felony in some cases. Prior to this change, choking would only be charged as a misdemeanor, known as simple assault, as long as no bodily injury occurred. Now, with the implementation of this law, penalties for domestic violence assault have become more severe, depending on the circumstances.
Definition of Strangulation
The Pennsylvania Criminal Code provides the following definition for strangulation:
“Knowingly or intentionally impeding the breathing or circulation of another person by:
- Applying pressure to the throat or neck, or
- Blocking the nose and mouth of the person.”
Under this new law, prosecutors are no longer required to prove the presence of physical injury. Additionally, the offender’s attorney is not permitted to use the lack of physical injury as a defense on behalf of the victim.
This change simplifies the process for prosecutors to establish a strangulation charge, as opposed to an aggravated assault charge. The latter requires proof that the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury and took actions to cause it. A Pittsburgh criminal attorney could previously argue that no injury was caused when the prosecutor claimed choking, as the absence of injury would negate the defendant’s intent. However, this defense does not apply in cases of strangulation.
With this updated legislation, the new law presents a more compelling argument against anyone alleged to have committed 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. Let’s take a closer look at the different degrees of this offense and the potential consequences they entail:
- 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: when the defendant has a prior conviction for strangulation, when a Protection from Abuse order is violated during the act of strangulation, or when a weapon is used 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, while 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, which means that punishments can range from probation to incarceration. Additionally, individuals convicted of domestic violence are prohibited from possessing firearms.
While proving strangulation has become easier for prosecutors, defendants still have several options to explore in their defense. These options, which are also applicable to other domestic violence charges, are contingent upon the unique circumstances of each case. They include:
Self-Defense: If the defense can substantiate that the alleged victim initiated the altercation, the defendant may argue self-defense. 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: Should the alleged victim not 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, which may include paying fines, engaging in community service, attending counseling sessions, and avoiding further arrests, can result in the dismissal of charges and expungement of the defendant’s criminal record.
Credibility: While it is no longer necessary for prosecutors to prove physical harm occurred in order to establish strangulation, there are ways to demonstrate if the alleged victim is being dishonest about their account. For instance, if the victim claims to have been strangled for a significant duration but lacks any visible marks or bruises on their neck, the defense may present evidence suggesting fabrication. Furthermore, during cross-examination, the defense can uncover potential motives for falsifying the alleged attack, such as personal gain, jealousy, or immigration-related purposes. It is important 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 the prosecutors to establish each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Although an injury does not have to be proved, if the judge or jury doubts the credibility of the victim, the case may result in an acquittal.
Trust Attorney Sean Logue and his accomplished team at Logue Law for your defense against domestic violence and domestic violence assault charges. With a proven record of success, they possess all the necessary qualities to represent you effectively. If you are 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 Pittsburgh, Ohio, and West Virginia.
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