Saturday, February 4, 2012

Article: Bill defines strangulation as an assault

Strangulation should be an explicit felony offense, a Senate committee decided Thursday.
Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 156, which revises the state's aggravated assault law to include strangulation.
Proponents said that strangulation is a common component of domestic violence, and that it is often hard to make a felony assault conviction stick under current law.
"This is an attempt to improve the ability to prosecute what I hope we all agree is the serious crime of strangulation," said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City.
Pointing to the current components of the aggravated assault law, Tieszen said the different types of aggravated assault are often enough.
"You might ask yourself: ‘Can't strangulation be prosecuted under one of those subsections,'" Tieszen told the committee. "The answer in many, perhaps most cases, is that yes, it can be."
But sometimes, Tieszen said, it is "like putting a square peg through a round hole."
Someone who attempts to cause "serious bodily injury to another" while "manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life" can be guilty of felony assault. So can someone who "attempts by physical menace with a deadly weapon to put another in fear of imminent bodily harm."
If SB156 passes, trying to "induce a fear of death or imminent bodily harm" by blocking someone's breathing with hands on the mouth or throat could also be convicted of aggravated assault.
Supporters of the bill said something needs to be done to target the problem.
Sgt. Matt Sargent of the Pennington County Sheriff's Office testified that between Pennington County and the Rapid City Police Department strangulation took place in 41 of 562 domestic violence arrests last year - a number Sargent believes to be low due to incorrect reporting.
Other Rapid City witnesses also urged the committee to pass the bill.
Dr. Anne Fisher, who heads the sexual assault response team at Rapid City Regional Hospital, described the medical aspects of strangulation, calling it "an extremely lethal form of assault" and "homicide on the installment plan" for its lasting effects.
Fred Magnavito, a psychologist who works with numerous local law enforcement agencies, described how the mind reacts to a strangulation attempt by one's partner - a psychological and physiological response that often leaves victims unable to escape.
If a woman has been strangled, Magnavito said, "her body will never get back to normal."
Magnavito said he didn't know if specifying strangulation as a felony assault would deter the crime, but he said he views it as necessary "justice."
Jacqi Galles of Rapid City, a survivor of strangulation, said perpetrators often escape serious punishment for their crimes.
"They need to be held accountable," Galles said. "Our certain laws we have now do not do that. I ask you and I beg you to go through with this. It is extremely important."
Before passing SB156, lawmakers approved an amendment offered by Paul Bachand of the South Dakota State's Attorneys Association, which made the language describing strangulation much more specific.
Bachand said he wanted to help prosecute true abusers without slapping "two guys wrestling" at a bar with a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Both the amendment and SB156 as amended passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and now move to the full Senate.
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or

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