Strangulation bill becomes law in Pa.
The District Attorney’s Office worked with state Rep. Corbin on the bill
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.
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.