Stran­gu­la­tion bill be­comes law in Pa.

The District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice worked with state Rep. Corbin on the bill

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Staff Re­port

Lo­cal of­fi­cials and state leg­is­la­tors an­nounced that a stran­gu­la­tion bill has been en­acted into law.

State Rep. Becky Corbin and Ch­ester County District At­tor­ney Tom Ho­gan an­nounced that Corbin’s stran­gu­la­tion bill has been en­acted into law, mak­ing stran­gu­la­tion a free-stand­ing crim­i­nal of­fense in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Corbin, R-155, of East Brandy­wine, and Ho­gan noted that stran­gu­la­tion is of­ten a prob­lem in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases.

“Med­i­cal ex­perts and po­lice de­scribe stran­gu­la­tion as an es­pe­cially cruel form of as­sault,” Corbin said. “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.”

Corbin said Penn­syl­va­nia has “joined 35 other states in rec­og­niz­ing stran­gu­la­tion as the vi­o­lent crime it truly is.”

The 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 the vic­tim.

Ho­gan said Corbin’s bill gives pros­e­cu­tors and po­lice an­other tool to fight do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“Chok­ing a vic­tim is a red flag for ex­treme vi­o­lence,” Ho­gan said. “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 legis-

la­tion closes that loop­hole.”

The of­fense is a felony if: the vic­tim is a fam­ily or house­hold mem­ber; the de­fen­dant is sub­ject to a pro­tec­tion from abuse order re­lated to the vic­tim; the

de­fen­dant has a pre­vi­ous stran­gu­la­tion con­vic­tion; or mul­ti­ple other fac­tors. If none of the ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors ap­ply, the of­fense is a mis­de­meanor.

The leg­is­la­tion’s his­tory be­gan with county Deputy District At­tor­ney Michelle Frei, who leads do­mes­tic vi­o­lence pros­e­cu­tions in Ch­ester County,

and the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Cen­ter of Ch­ester County (DVCCC). Frei saw a re­peat prob­lem with prov­ing stran­gu­la­tion cases across the com­mon­wealth. She said she also ob­served that the act of chok­ing of­ten pre­ceded more ex­treme vi­o­lence fur­ther into an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship.

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

Frei be­gan to re­search stran­gu­la­tion leg­is­la­tion. She found that more than 30 other states al­ready had passed stran­gu­la­tion leg­is­la­tion. She then drafted a pro­posed stran­gu­la­tion statute for Penn­syl­va­nia.

Know­ing that Corbin is a strong pro­po­nent for crime vic­tims, Ho­gan said he took the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to her. She stud­ied the his­tory of the is­sue and agreed to

spon­sor the leg­is­la­tion.

Corbin worked to push the stran­gu­la­tion leg­is­la­tion through to be­come a new law. She signed up other Ch­ester County leg­is­la­tors as co-spon­sors, in­clud­ing state Reps. Harry Lewis, R-74, of Caln; Tim Hen­nessey, R-26, of North Coven­try; Dan Truitt, R-156, of East Goshen; Duane Milne, R-167, of Wil­lis­town; Chris Ross, R-158, of Kennett Square; and Steve Bar­rar, R-160, of Up­per Chich­ester. She worked closely with House and Se­nate lead­er­ship. She co­or­di­nated with the Penn­syl­va­nia District At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims’ ad­vo­cacy groups.

The stran­gu­la­tion bill even­tu­ally gar­nered bi­par­ti­san sup­port. The state House ap­proved the bill by a vote of 184-3. The state Se­nate voted unan­i­mously in fa­vor of the bill. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law on Wed­nes­day.

Fol­low­ing what the District

At­tor­ney’s Of­fice de­scribed as a “par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing” do­mes­tic vi­o­lence homi­cide in Ch­ester County in 2012 (Com­mon­wealth v. James Hvizda), the DVCCC and the District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice be­gan to im­ple­ment the Lethal­ity As­sess­ment Pro­gram (LAP). LAP is a tool used in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sit­u­a­tion to gauge the level of dan­ger to the vic­tims. Us­ing a se­ries of sim­ple ques­tions, LAP al­lows both the po­lice and po­ten­tial vic­tims to pre­dict cur­rent risks and fu­ture vi­o­lence.

DVCCC has been re­spon­si­ble for train­ing law en­force­ment in the use of LAP. In Ch­ester County, 42 out of 47 po­lice de­part­ments have im­ple­mented LAP, the high­est per­cent­age of any county in Penn­syl­va­nia.

One of the spe­cific red flags raised by LAP is prior chok­ing or stran­gu­la­tion of the vic­tim by the de­fen­dant. For in­stance, if the de­fen­dant has been chok­ing the vic­tim, the de­fen­dant is mov­ing along a path to ex­treme vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing a po­ten­tial mur­der, ac­cord­ing to the DA’s Of­fice.

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

Corbin said 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,” Corbin said. “Be­cause of the amount of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence across Penn­syl­va­nia, we ex­pect that this leg­is­la­tion will help pro­tect many, many po­ten­tial vic­tims.”

All state rep­re­sen­ta­tives are up for re-elec­tion on Nov. 8. Corbin faces Spring City Demo­crat James Burns.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Ch­ester County District At­tor­ney Tom Ho­gan, state Rep. Becky Corbin, R-155, of East Brandy­wine, Deputy District At­tor­ney Michelle Frei, and Dolly Wide­man-Scott, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Cen­ter of Ch­ester County, pose to­gether in an­nounc­ing that Corbin’s stran­gu­la­tion bill has been en­acted into law.

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