Until April 2023, Ohio was the only state not classifying strangulation as a felony. But along with other criminal justice reforms enacted this year, Senate Bill 288 changed that fact.
To tackle domestic violence, Ohio has recognized the severity of strangulation and seeks better legal protections for victims. While this change has prompted more public awareness about the dangers and prevalence of domestic violence-related strangulation, there are still obstacles to address.
Strangulation in Ohio
Before SB 288, strangulation was a misdemeanor offense in Ohio. Many felt this did not adequately reflect the nature of this crime. Strangulation is often a strong predictor of future domestic violence. After all, research has shown that victims of strangulation are at a much higher risk of severe injuries and death.
Prosecutors and victim rights groups have advocated for this charge for decades, citing cases where offenders could not be charged simply because there wasn’t a statute on the books.
Louis Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, explained the difference SB 288 makes in Ohio domestic violence cases. “Prosecutors were stuck with a choice between prosecuting strangulation as misdemeanor domestic violence,” he told Spectrum News 1.
Ohio’s Felony Strangulation Law
The newly enacted Ohio Revised Code § 2903.18 reclassifies strangulation as a felony. The law defines “Strangulation or Suffocation” as any act that impedes the normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure to the throat or neck or by covering the nose and mouth.
Under Ohio’s strangulation law, no one shall knowingly:
- Cause serious physical harm by means of strangulation or suffocation.
- Create a substantial risk of serious physical harm by means of strangulation or suffocation.
- Cause or create a substantial risk of physical harm by means of strangulation or suffocation.
Violations of Ohio’s updated strangulation law will now be charged as a second-degree, fourth-degree, or fifth-degree felony, respectively.
This reclassification could have a significant impact on law enforcement. According to the Domestic Violence Division of the Columbus City (Ohio) Attorney’s Office, approximately 20% of an estimated 3,200 domestic violence cases involved strangulation in 2018. This suggests that thousands of previously classified misdemeanor cases can now be charged as felonies.
The Benefit & Challenges of Making Strangulation a Felony
Supporters argue that the change will provide a strong deterrent. The move will also empower victims, who may be slow to come forward. The shift has also prompted increased public awareness about strangulation in domestic violence.
Despite this progress, the reality is rarely straightforward. Putting your hands around someone’s throat is a heinous act, but some scenarios are not open and shut.
Domestic violence cases are usually complicated, and police are known to err on caution. Someone could be mistakenly charged with a serious offense due to:
- The Misinterpretation of Physical Evidence: Strangulation may not always leave visible marks or injuries. Officers could mistakenly interpret unrelated marks or injuries as signs of strangulation.
- A Miscommunication or Misunderstanding: A victim or witness may unintentionally provide unclear or inaccurate information to the police. This might lead to a wrongful arrest. Language barriers or emotional distress might contribute to this miscommunication.
- False Accusations: Someone might falsely accuse another person of strangulation as revenge or manipulation. They may use it to gain an advantage in legal disputes, such as custody battles. Police may initially arrest the accused based on the allegations. Further investigation would be necessary to determine the truth.
- Inadequate Investigation: Police may not have enough time or resources to investigate a strangulation allegation thoroughly. They might make an arrest based on preliminary evidence without exploring alternative explanations or considering other suspects.
For example, a married couple might get into a heated argument. During the dispute, the wife falls and hits her neck on the table’s edge, leaving a large bruise. In the commotion, a neighbor calls the police. When they arrive, they see the bruises and assume strangulation caused them. The husband denies it, but since the wife is still upset or confused by the situation, the police incorrectly believe the husband tried to strangle his wife and arrest him.
Felony Strangulations Are Harder to Defend
Suppose the police in the example above had conducted an in-depth investigation or interviewed both parties separately. They might have discovered that the wife’s injuries were accidental rather than an act of violence. However, now the stakes are much higher for the accused because the husband faces a felony charge. Because strangulation is now a felony, the stakes are much higher for the accused.
Felony strangulation convictions have increased penalties, and long-term consequences misdemeanor charges don’t have. A misdemeanor might result in a jail sentence of up to one year. A felony can lead to a prison term of several years. While this heightened punishment is the new law’s intent, it complicates matters for wrongly charged people.
Felonies are more significant crimes than misdemeanors, and the legal system reflects this difference. It will also influence how prosecutors approach your case, limit what plea options are available to the accused, and reduce the potential opportunities to resolve the matter.
Accused of Strangulation? Call a Lawyer
Reclassifying strangulation as a felony in Ohio signifies a renewed commitment to pursue domestic violence cases aggressively. Officers may make arrests quickly, and prosecutors will be eager to convict. Remember: an arrest does not automatically equate to guilt. The accused has the right to due process and to consult a lawyer.
So, before explaining the situation yourself, contact a defense lawyer with experience in Ohio domestic violence cases involving strangulation. Further investigation and evidence may help your case and result in a reduction, a dismissal, or prove you’re innocent.
At Luftman, Heck & Associates, our experienced team of Columbus defense attorneys has been fighting for the accused and getting results for years. We’re ready to listen and explain how to handle felony charges related to strangulation.
Call (614) 500-3836 for a free and confidential case evaluation.