SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill designed to aid the prosecution in domestic violence cases, establishing a law that identifies strangulation as a traumatic condition that can lead to felony charges.
The legislation recognizes choking as a potential stepping stone to more severe violence. The bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego, said the clarification was needed because it is difficult to prosecute cases when there is little physical evidence.
“What happens is that strangulation is not prosecuted even though it is a precursor to homicide,” she said.
Previously, defense lawyers could argue that choking is little more than a slap because victims may not have any visible injury by the time they get to court.
Most of the time, strangulation isn’t about physically harming someone, Kehoe said, but rather asserting power or control. That is especially true in relationships marred by domestic abuse, she said.
“This is a control issue,” she said. “They’re saying, `You are at my mercy.’ That is why we want to have strangulation be charged, so it can be prosecuted in court.”
Existing law does not classify strangulation as a serious criminal offense, and police officers often do not receive the training necessary to identify a victim’s subtle symptoms, said Gael Strack, chief executive officer of the National Family Justice Center Alliance, a San Diego-based organization that sponsored the legislation.
The law will provide consistent, statewide training on how to identify, investigate and prosecute a strangulation case, she said.
It also will bridge gaps in current legislation designed to protect women, said Casey Gwinn, president of the alliance, which provides technical assistance, training and consulting for a national network of centers for victims of family violence.
It gives prosecutors and police officers a tool to treat strangulation as a serious crime when the victim survives. Often, the victim isn’t aware of how serious the crime is, he said.
“When a woman has been strangled by her partner, she is 800 percent more likely to be killed,” he said.
The alliance decided to seek the legislation after a woman was killed in San Diego. While she had a restraining order against her husband, charges brought against him for strangulation had been dismissed.
“It became clear that we needed more than what we had,” Strack said. “This is going to save lives.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)