Maryland should crack down on strangulations
By Editorial Board, Published: April 2, 2012
A WOMAN WHO has been the victim of attempted strangulation by her husband or boyfriend is at an astronomical risk of ultimately being killed by that man.
This disturbing revelation, contained in a 2008 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, lies at the heart of a worthy Maryland proposal to decrease the incidence of homicides related to domestic violence by increasing the penalties for attempted strangulation.
Strangulation is included in a novel “lethality assessment” used by law enforcement officials and those who work with victims of domestic violence to predict potential homicides. Sponsored by Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), the Maryland legislation would reclassify attempted strangulation as a first-degree assault, carrying a potential penalty of 25 years behind bars.
Although attempted strangulation is already a crime and could carry a term of incarceration of 10 years, prosecuting such assaults is difficult. Julie Drake, the chief family violence prosecutor in the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office, says that in the past 20 years she has seen only one man get the maximum penalty for attempting to choke his female partner to death, adding that it is not unusual to see a man escape jail time for a serious strangulation assault. Ms. Drake explains that, under current law, prosecutors must show that the attempted strangulation caused a “serious physical injury,” which is defined in Maryland as disfigurement, or loss of or permanent disability to a “bodily member” or an organ. Even life-threatening strangulation attempts often leave no visible marks, which can force prosecutors to drop cases or settle for lesser charges.
The Maryland proposal would allow prosecutors to charge first-degree assault if alleged perpetrators intended to “impede the normal breathing or circulation of blood.” The inclusion of this intent requirement was suggested by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) to guard against lodging such charges against those who scuffled with a victim but only incidentally touched or glanced her neck. The sponsors of the bill and advocates for domestic violence victims have embraced the amendment, as have law enforcement officials such as Ms. Drake. Some 21 states, including most recently New York, have adopted similar laws, according to Mr. Simmons.
The Maryland bill handily passed the state Senate in February, and the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the matter March 29. (A similar measure failed to garner enough support last year.) The legislature, which is scheduled to adjourn its regular session April 9, should not close up shop without passing a measure that could save scores of lives. The women of Maryland deserve no less.
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