Bipartisan coalition supports making assault by strangulation a felony
Attorney General Rob McKenna announced today that legislation to address assault by strangulation, one of the most serious domestic violence crimes, has been introduced by a bipartisan coalition in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
The request legislation from the Attorney General’s Office would allow felony charges to be brought against domestic violence abusers and others who strangle their victims. Because there is often no physical sign of injury, it can be difficult under current law to file and prove felony assault charges in cases involving strangulation.
“Strangulation is a cruel crime that terrifies victims, especially victims of domestic violence,” McKenna said. “With this legislation we create a new tool to punish offenders, but I am also hopeful that we can deter domestic violence when word spreads that abusers who strangle their victims will receive serious punishment.”
The lead sponsors for Senate Bill 5953 and House Bill 2119 are Senators Tracey J. Eide (D-Federal Way and Senate Floor Leader) and Val Stevens (R-Arlington and ranking Republican on the Human Services and Corrections Committee), and Representatives John Lovick (D-Mill Creek and Speaker Pro Tem) and Skip Priest (R-Federal Way).
“Tragically, domestic strangulation happens more often than we realize. In Federal Way alone during the past few months, we have had 50 cases,” said Sen. Eide said. “This will not be a silent issue. We are tough on domestic violence, and strangulation will absolutely not be tolerated.”
“Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence,” said Sen. Stevens. “Domestic violence is on the increase. These brutal people who use their force to strangle their victim must be curtailed -- and we believe this bill will achieve that.”
Assault by strangulation would be categorized as a second-degree assault, which is a class B felony, punishable by a maximum period of 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000. The standard sentencing range for a first-time offender convicted of second-degree assault is 3-9 months in jail.
"If somebody starts choking or strangling you, it's far more dangerous than a slap in the face -- it's a fight for survival,” said Rep. Lovick. “Stopping this abuse is important because most murder victims aren't killed by strangers, but by people they know: husbands or wives, boyfriends or girlfriends. This reform will help protect people in Washington state from one of the most dangerous types of domestic violence."
“I am pleased to work with the attorney general and my colleagues in the Legislature to address the violent crimes associated with domestic violence,” said Rep. Priest. “My hope is that our legislation will dissuade domestic abusers by placing stiffer penalties on acts of violence in the home.”
Under current state law the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that strangulation resulted in “substantial bodily harm” in order to convict an offender of felony second-degree assault. As a result, the most common domestic violence charge is simple assault, a gross misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $5,000.
Contact: Janelle Guthrie, Communications Director, 360-586-0725