Strangulation classed as crime in new state law
Shantal Parris Riley • Poughkeepsie Journal • December 13, 2010
A new law makes strangulation a crime in New York state.
Officials say the law, which took effect Nov. 11, may make it easier to prosecute cases where there is a lesser degree of physical injury.
The Strangulation Prevention Act of 2010, signed by Gov. David Paterson in August, establishes three new crimes, including second-degree strangulation, defined as causing physical impairment, loss of consciousness or stupor; and first-degree strangulation, defined as causing serious physical injury or death. Both are felonies resulting in mandatory prison time for adult offenders.
Third-degree strangulation is defined as the criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation. The crime is a class A misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to a year in jail.
“What is significant about this new law is that it is distinguishable from assault,” said Marjorie Smith, special victims unit bureau chief of the Dutchess County District Attorney’s Office. “Assault statutes require a person actually sustains physical injury. It’s a high threshold. What is not here with this law is a requirement that the victim sustains actual physical injury.”
Signs such as bruises on the neck and petechial hemorrhaging, manifesting as tiny, red pinpoint marks in the eyes, eyelids, and sometimes the lips and ears, showed the likelihood of strangulation, but were often insufficient to prove physical injury in the past, Smith said.
“The law did not reflect the inherent danger of the act of strangulation — without physical injury it was not considered serious,” Smith said. “This law says the very act of obstructing a person’s airway or stopping the circulation of their blood is so serious that it is equivalent to intentionally hurting somebody.”
The law will likely have the most impact in cases of domestic abuse, Smith said, as strangling, choking and the like occur most often in domestic-abuse cases involving couples.
“We see it most regularly in intimate partner violence,” Smith said.
The new law reflects the varying levels of injury that are possible with obstruction to breathing and blood flow.
“Strangulation of any kind is compressing the neck,” Dutchess County Chief Medical Examiner Kari Reiber said. “What happens is that you’re stopping the blood supply to the brain. Brain cells cannot go for very long without oxygen.”
Reiber said a brain deprived of oxygen will eventually result in a loss of consciousness. One indication of lost consciousness from strangulation, she said, is a loss of bladder control.
“It takes a number of minutes after that to cause brain death,” she said. “The time it takes depends on the extent of the blockage.”
Reiber explained that it may take from one to five minutes to cause irreversible changes in the brain.
“If someone puts a rope around the neck with a complete blockage, then it would take 10 to 20 seconds to lose consciousness,” Reiber said. “It would take a minute to a minute and a half to get irreversible changes in the brain. Irreversible changes in the brain essentially cause the heart to stop.”
In one of the first cases of the new law’s local implementation, a 20-year-old man was arrested on a charge of third-degree strangulation after; he was accused of choking his pregnant girlfriend in Hyde Park on Nov. 19.
In a more a recent case, Tyrese Storms, a 25-year-old woman in her second trimester of pregnancy, was found dead Dec. 3 in her Pleasant Valley home.
Her live-in boyfriend, Robert Loucks, 30, was charged with second-degree murder in the slaying. The Dutchess County chief medical examiner later ruled the cause of her death to be strangulation.
Smith would not comment on whether strangulation charges were pending in the cas