Pennsylvania passed a new law in 2016 that created a separate crime of strangulation. Previously, when someone was accused of choking or strangling someone while inflicting minimal or no injuries, the defendant would have been charged with simple assault or harassment. However, the new law makes strangulation an offense in its own right, and it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on your relationship to the victim and a couple of other factors. If you have been charged with strangulation, call DiCindio Law to schedule a consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
What is the crime of strangulation in Pennsylvania?
Strangulation is defined in 18 Pa. C.S. § 2718. Under this law, you can be charged with strangulation if you intentionally or knowingly impair someone else’s blood circulation or breathing ability by applying pressure to his or her neck or throat. You can also be charged with strangulation if you impair the person’s blood circulation or breathing by covering his or her mouth and nose.
What are the penalties for strangulation?
Strangulation can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on your relationship with the victim and the circumstances under which the act occurred. Since most cases involving strangulation accusations involve domestic partners, this means that most cases will be charged as felony offenses.
Second-Degree Felony Strangulation
Strangulation is a second-degree felony when it is committed against a member of your household or family with one of the following relationships to you:
- Spouse/former spouse
- Person you live with even if you are unmarried
- Current/former intimate partner
- Child or parent
- Person related to you by blood or through adoption
The penalties you might face for a conviction of strangling a domestic partner or family member include the following:
- Felony on your record
- Up to 10 years in prison
- Up to a $25,000 fine
You might also face a long probationary sentence or serve a longer period of parole after you are released from prison. A felony strangulation conviction might also result in a loss of your civil rights, a loss of your right to carry or own a firearm, and cause other consequences in your life for employment, housing, relationships, and credit.
You can also be charged with a second-degree felony strangulation offense if you strangled a person who is dependent on your care while you were acting as his or her caretaker. For example, if you strangled an adult with a developmental or physical disability who requires your help for shelter, food, health care, personal care, or clothing, you could face up to 10 years in prison and the other penalties listed above.
Three other situations that can enhance strangulation to a second-degree felony include strangling someone while also committing a crime of sexual violence, strangling someone whom you have been stalking, or strangling someone while you were engaging in human trafficking.
First-Degree Felony Strangulation
Strangulation can be charged as a first-degree felony if you strangled someone who had an active protection from abuse order against you with which you had been served. You can also be charged with first-degree felony strangulation if you used a prohibited offensive weapon during the act of strangling someone or have a previous conviction for strangulation.
If you are convicted of first-degree felony strangulation, you will face the following potential penalties:
- Up to 20 years in prison
- Up to a $25,000 fine
- Felony on your permanent record
Strangulation is a second-degree misdemeanor when it is committed under any other circumstance than those listed above. For example, you could face second-degree misdemeanor strangulation charges if you strangle someone with who you are not related and do not live together without a weapon or under any of the other circumstances that could result in the felony enhancement. If you are convicted of second-degree misdemeanor strangulation, you will face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
What if the alleged victim was not injured?
The statute explicitly states that it is no defense to a strangulation charge that the alleged victim was not physically injured. Even if the alleged victim was uninjured, this means that you could still be convicted. However, if the alleged victim consented to your request to choke him or her, you can raise that as an affirmative defense.
Defenses to strangulation charges
Many strangulation cases without physical injuries will be based on the testimony of the alleged victim that he or she suffered impaired breathing after the defendant choked him or her. Other cases might include additional evidence, including markings or injuries to the person’s neck, eyewitness testimony, or surveillance video.
Your attorney will carefully review the evidence the prosecution has against you to identify potential defenses. Some of the possible defenses that might be available include the following:
- The alleged victim consented to being choked.
- The alleged victim falsely accused you.
- You were misidentified in a case involving strangers.
- You were defending yourself against the alleged victim’s aggression.
Get help from an experienced defense lawyer
Strangulation charges are serious. Even if the alleged victim did not have any visible injuries, you could still face felony charges under certain circumstances. If you are convicted of a felony, you could face years in prison and ongoing consequences that could impact you for the rest of your life. Even a misdemeanor strangulation conviction can cause problems for you at your job and in your personal relationships. To learn more about your rights and the defenses you might be able to raise, call DiCindio Law today at (610) 430-3535.