(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon), Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic) to raise the penalty for the crime of strangulation in domestic violence cases was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.
While strangulation cases are not limited to domestic violence situations, studies show a high incidence of strangulation in domestic violence cases. Studies indicate that 23 to 68 percent of female domestic violence victims experienced at least one strangulation assault by a male partner during their lifetime. 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 worse, lead to her death,” said Gusciora. “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. An 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. “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. “Enhancing the penalty for this type of assault is only right considering the potential repercussions of such an attack.”
The measure was unanimously released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11.