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Democratic Bill to Toughen Penalty for Strangulation in Domestic Violence Cases Clears Assembly

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Troy Singleton, Joseph Lagana, Pamela Lampitt, Liz Muoio, Marlene Caride, Grace Spencer, Gabriela Mosquera, Cleopatra Tucker and Whip Wilson to raise the penalty for the crime of strangulation in domestic violence cases gained the approval of the full Assembly on Thursday.

While strangulation cases are not limited to domestic violence situations, studies show a high incidence of strangulation in domestic violence cases. According to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, a program of the National Family Justice Center Alliance, strangulation is one of the best predictors for the subsequent homicide of victims of domestic violence. In fact, one study showed that “the odds of becoming an attempted homicide increased by about seven-fold for women who had been strangled by their partner.”

“This is a violent tactic often used against domestic violence victims by their abusers. It can have a debilitating psychological effect on the victim, and at worst, lead to her death,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “The fact that the harshest punishment for this crime is up to six months in jail and a fine is ludicrous. The risk of serious injury or worse from a strangulation assault warrants a higher penalty.”

The bill (A-235) provides that the strangulation of a victim during the commission of an act of domestic violence that results in bodily injury constitutes aggravated assault.

At present, if, during the course of an assault, a victim suffers bodily injury as a result of strangulation by an individual, the individual may be charged with simple assault. The individual may also be charged with simple assault if the victim does not suffer bodily injury but the individual attempts to cause bodily injury or attempts to put the victim in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

Simple assault is punishable as a disorderly persons offense or a petty disorderly persons offense, depending on whether the assault was committed in a fight or scuffle entered into mutually. A disorderly persons offense is punishable by up to six months imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000 or both, while a petty disorderly persons offense is punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment, a fine of up to $500 or both.

Aggravated assault is punishable as a crime of the third degree if the victim suffers bodily injury; otherwise it is a crime of the fourth degree. A crime of the third degree is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000 or both. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

“Strangulation may not leave obvious external injuries like other forms of abuse, but it is still painful physically and mentally,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Toughening the penalty for this crime can help protect women who are victimized by keeping their abusers away for a longer period of time.”

“There is no justice in a few months spent in jail and a fine for an assault that is terrifying, renders the victim powerless and in the worst cases, can end a life,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Enhancing the penalty for this type of assault is only right considering the potential repercussions of such an attack.”

“When somebody strangles another person, cutting off that person’s air supply, there is no doubt that the intent is to threaten that person’s very life,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington), chair of the Assembly Women and Children Committee. “The consequence of potentially almost killing someone in New Jersey has to be more than a few months of imprisonment.”

“Strangulation is an appalling crime that centers on exercising the ultimate control over another person. It’s about showing someone that his or her life, quite literally, is in your hands, which abusers consider a source of power,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Increasing the punishment for this kind of behavior will protect victims of domestic violence and make it clear that our state does not tolerate this violence.”

“Clearly anyone who goes so far as to strangle someone they claim to love has the potential to kill,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “A six-month slap on the wrist simply is not enough of a punishment.”

“It’s unconscionable that strangulation – preventing someone from being able to breathe – can carry the same penalty as shoplifting does in some cases,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “This is a serious crime that ought to be regarded as such under the law.”

“Domestic violence, fundamentally, is about instilling fear in the victim, and few fears are more ominous than the fear of being strangled to death,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Six months in prison is far from a penalty that fits this crime. In addition to protecting victims, this bill will help ensure that children in a home do not have to witness such heinous behavior.”

“Approximately one in four female domestic violence victims has experienced at least one strangulation assault by a male partner in her lifetime, and this is considered a conservative estimate,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “With this legislation, New Jersey takes a stand against domestic violence in one of its most lethal forms.”

“An abuser who strangles a victim today may kill that victim tomorrow,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester), who handled several domestic violence cases as a lieutenant with the Camden Police Department. “Strangulation causes physical and psychological damage that warrants more than six months in prison.”

The measure, which passed unanimously, awaits Senate consideration.