New Pennsylvania law makes strangulation a free-standing crime

From left, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan is joined by state Rep. Becky Corbin, R-155th Dist., Deputy Chester County District Attorney Michelle Frei, and Dolly Wideman-Scott, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, to applaud the new strangulation legislation.

A bill that has recently been enacted into Pennsylvania law will make strangulation a free-standing criminal offense.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and state Rep. Becky Corbin, R-155th Dist., announced Thursday that the bill will now officially be Pennsylvania law.

“Medical experts and police describe strangulation as an especially cruel form of assault,” said Corbin. “Victims can slip in and out of consciousness, experiencing fear and terror each time they regain consciousness until the attacker relents. It is a crime most often carried out by someone who knows the victim intimately. Pennsylvania has now joined 35 other states in recognizing strangulation as the violent crime it truly is.”

The newly enacted bill makes it a crime to apply pressure to the throat or neck of a victim, or to otherwise block the nose and mouth of a victim. The offense is considered a misdemeanor unless any aggravating factors apply. Strangulation is considered a felony if a victim is a family or household member; if the defendant is subject to a protection from abuse order related to the victim; if the defendant has a previous strangulation conviction or if multiple other factors apply.

“In Chester County, we do everything we can to protect victims of domestic violence,” said Deputy District Attorney Michelle Frei. “Our police already do an outstanding job in this area. Representative Corbin’s bill adds another level of protection for these victims.”

The bill follows the implementation of the Lethality Assessment Program in Chester County, a program which allows law enforcement to gauge the level of danger to victims of domestic violence by asking the victim a series of questions. One red flag that was specifically listed in the questions was prior strangulation or choking. These questions indicate that the defendant is moving toward extreme violence or possible murder.

Dolly Wideman-Scott, executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County, began research into strangulation legislation and found that 30 other states had already passed legislation. She then drafted a proposed strangulation statute, which was passed along to Corbin who agreed to sponsor the legislation.

“Rep. Corbin’s bill gives prosecutors and police another tool to fight domestic violence. Choking a victim is a red flag for extreme violence. However, such cases historically were difficult to prosecute because the conduct often does not leave visible injuries, despite both the life-threatening result and the psychological harm inflicted on the victim. This legislation closes that loop-hole,” Hogan said.

The bill eventually garnered bipartisan support and was approved by a vote of 184-3. The Pennsylvania Senate voted 50-0 in favor of the bill and Governor Wolf signed the bill into law on Oct. 26, according to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

“Domestic violence victims come to us damaged both physically and emotionally. Over and over again, we see choking as part of this horrible pattern of abuse. On behalf of all these victims, we thank Representative Corbin for caring and taking steps to help,” said Wideman-Scott.

“At the end of the day, this legislation is about saving lives. If this bill protects a single victim from being hurt or killed, it will have been worth all of the effort. Because of the amount of domestic violence across Pennsylvania, we expect that this legislation will help protect many, many potential victims,” said Corbin.

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