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For immediate release: Thursday, April 7, 2011
PR #5 - 2011

New strangulation statute proving an effective tool for law enforcement

More than 2,000 individuals charged statewide in the first 15 weeks since the law took effect

More than 2,000 individuals were charged with strangulation offenses across New York State in the 15 weeks following the law’s effective date, according to a research brief issued today by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), and the new law is providing police and prosecutors with an effective tool, particularly in the fight against domestic violence.

Three strangulation offenses were added to the Penal Law on Nov. 11, 2010: criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, a Class A misdemeanor; second-degree strangulation, a Class D felony; and first-degree strangulation, a Class C felony.

According to the DCJS research brief, there were 2,003 arrest events (either arrest or arraignment) between Nov. 11, 2010, and Feb. 22, 2011, in which a suspect was charged with a strangulation offense. Of those arrest events:

  • 1,200 (60 percent) occurred in New York City.
    • Each of the city’s five counties reported at least one arrest event, with Kings County reporting the most in the city and the entire state: 467.
    • There were 248 arrest events in Queens County, 240 in Bronx County, 179 in New York County and 66 in Richmond County.
  • 803 (40 percent) occurred Upstate and on Long Island.
    • All but four counties in the state – Cattaraugus, Hamilton, Lewis and Tioga – reported at least one arrest event.
    • Of the arrest events outside of New York City: Suffolk County reported the most, with 111, followed by Erie County with 81, Nassau County with 77, Monroe County with 69 and Westchester County with 49.
    • Seven other counties also reported more than 15 arrest events: Onondaga, 42; Schenectady, 32; Oneida, 31; Albany, 28; Ulster, 25; Broome, 18; and Orange, 17.
  • All told, 17 counties accounted for 88.9 percent of all arrest events reported between Nov. 11, 2010 and Feb. 22, 2011.
  • Nearly 83 percent of the arrest events statewide – 1,660 – were for criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, the Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail.
    • Anyone convicted of the misdemeanor charge – or either of the felonies under Penal Law Article 121 – is required to submit a DNA sample to the state databank.

Of the 2,003 individuals charged with strangulation offenses, males comprised 94 percent of the suspects, and the majority of suspects were between the ages of 20 and 29.  Forty-four percent of the suspects were black, 29 percent were white and 22 percent, Hispanic. The New York City Police Department reported the most arrest events – 1,198 – followed by the Suffolk County Police Department (106) and the New York State Police (78).

Prior to the law, it was difficult to arrest or prosecute individuals accused of strangling their victims because in the vast majority of those cases, there was no visible physical injury, even if the victim temporarily lost consciousness. As a result, the only charge individuals often faced was second-degree harassment, a violation.

DCJS Acting Commissioner Sean M. Byrne said: “These arrest numbers are staggering, and clearly illustrate the gap that existed in the Penal Law. At DCJS, we live by the axiom that what gets measured gets done: good information and solid data can inform good public policy, and effective policies and programs can reduce crime and prevent future victimization. I commend law enforcement officials in communities across the state for their swift and effective use of this new tool.”

Added Amy Barasch, executive director of the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV): “Strangulation occurs frequently in domestic violence situations, with it often characterized as ‘choking’ in domestic incident reports and charged as a harassment. In the past, individuals could be strangled almost to the point of death, but perpetrators would often go unpunished because there were no visible physical injuries. This new law recognizes the severity of this particular crime and enables law enforcement to hold offenders appropriately accountable.”

State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said: “This new means to hold individuals criminally liable for their abusive and deadly conduct is a valuable additional tool for law enforcement in the intervention and victim protection process.”

Added Tina M. Stanford, director of the state Office of Victim Services: “Choking and strangulation are two of the most common forms of domestic violence that abusers perpetrate on their victims, but until now, law enforcement could not address the serious nature of these assaults because physical evidence in these cases was often lacking. Domestic violence is a serial crime, and one that often escalates in severity. This law allows police and prosecutors to intervene before more serious injuries occur.”

Researchers with the DCJS Office of Justice Research and Performance extracted strangulation charges from the agency’s Computerized Criminal History (CCH) system, which captures arrest data, to determine whether the new statute was proving to be useful for law enforcement. Information on crime victims is not available from CCH.

The entire research update – Arrests and Arraignments Involving Strangulation Offenses Nov. 11, 2010 – Feb. 22, 2011 – is posted under the “What’s New” feature on the home page of the DCJS website: www.criminaljustice.ny.gov.

Michele McKeon, executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said: “The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on behalf of the domestic violence advocacy community, fully supported this new initiative and applauded the passage. It is clear from the three first three months of implementation how effective it can be. For far too long strangulation has been used by batterers to assault their partners and until November 2010, there wasn’t a statute specifically outlining the crime of strangulation. This new law allows the police to charge offenders more effectively and appropriately. We thank DCJS and OPDV for continuing to monitor the implementation and law enforcement communities for embracing this statute and thereby continuing to strengthen the safety net for victims and their families.”

Franklin County District Attorney Derek P. Champagne, president of the District Attorneys’ Association of New York State, said: “As these dramatic statistics show, law enforcement has been putting this statute to very good use. The statute is a great example of what can happen when domestic violence victim advocates, law enforcement, and elected officials work collaboratively to solve a real and compelling problem. The strangulation laws provide law enforcement with strong and effective tools to stop domestic abusers and rapists who use strangulation as a means to subdue their victims.”

Added Rensselaer County Sheriff Jack Mahar, president of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association: "Perpetrators often use strangulation to silence their victims because it is a form of power and control that has a devastating psychological effect on victims and a potentially fatal outcome. Historically, 'choking' was rarely prosecuted as a serious offense because victims can tend to minimize the level of violence if there are no marks. However, with this new law we have a tool that allows us to charge the perpetrator and begin the process of protecting the victim and holding the perpetrator accountable.”

Dryden (Tompkins County) Police Chief Margaret E. Ryan, president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, said: “Aggressive enforcement efforts combined with smart laws like the Strangulation Act of 2010 will assist in reducing the amount of domestic violence in New York and will undoubtedly reduce the deaths, injuries and suffering needlessly caused in domestic violence incidents. The absence of marks or bruising in some choking cases often left police with the choice between misdemeanor assault or harassment offense. This new law provides better definitions of conduct and more equitable penalties for persons whose actions teeter between the loss of consciousness and death.”

DCJS (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov) is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; operation of the DNA databank and criminal fingerprint files; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry and a toll-free telephone number (1-800-262-3257) that allows anyone to research the status of an offender.

OPDV (www.opdv.ny.gov) is charged with improving the response of state and local communities to domestic violence. OPDV provides guidance to Executive level staff on policy and legislation; conducts statewide community outreach and public education programs; and trains professionals on addressing domestic violence in a wide array of disciplines, including child welfare, law enforcement and health care.



Contact: Janine Kava, Press Office
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
(518) 457-8906 or (518) 275-5508 – cell