In recent years, largely in response to the Jared Remy murder case, the Massachusetts Legislature has enacted new laws to address domestic violence. One of the new statutes specifically outlaws the strangulation or suffocation of another person. Before the enactment of this law, if a defendant strangled or suffocated another person, he could either be charged with assault and battery (which is a misdemeanor) or assault with intent to murder (which is a felony, but requires proof that the defendant had a specific intent to murder the victim). The strangulation/suffocation statute is a felony and it does not require that the defendant intended to kill the victim. The relationship between the defendant and the victim is also irrelevant – the statute applies even when the parties are not married or otherwise involved in a romantic relationship.
The statute states that whoever suffocates or strangles another person is subject to a state prison sentence of up to five years, or a House of Correction sentence of up to two and a half years, and a fine of up to $5,000.
Strangulation happens when the defendant intentionally applies substantial pressure to the neck or throat of the victim, which interferes with the victim’s normal breathing or circulation of blood.
Suffocation occurs when the defendant intentionally blocks the mouth or nose of the victim, which interferes with the victim’s normal breathing or circulation of blood.
There are enhanced penalties in the following circumstances:
When the defendant strangles or suffocates another person causing serious bodily injury (which is defined as impairment or loss of a bodily function, organ, or limb; permanent disfigurement; or creating a substantial risk of death);
When the defendant knew or should have known the victim was pregnant;
When the defendant had been previously convicted of strangulation or suffocation; and
When the victim had a restraining order in effect against the defendant at the time of the incident.
A defendant who is convicted under this statute is ordinarily required to complete a certified batterer’s program. The program takes almost one year to complete (with weekly meetings) and requires the defendant to affirmatively concede that he batters women.Common defenses to Strangulation and Suffocation Cases
Lack of Injuries – In order to be guilty of strangulation or suffocation, the defendant would have needed to apply a large amount of force to the alleged victim’s body. It is reasonable to conclude that such force would have left visible bruising or marks on the victim’s neck or face. If the investigating police officers do not witness any injuries, the prosecutor will have difficulty proving the defendant’s guilt.
Bias – If the alleged victim is accusing the defendant of a violent assault, there will necessarily be bad blood between the parties. Attorney Spring will conduct an aggressive cross-examination to establish the alleged victim’s bias against the defendant and motive to lie.
Fifth Amendment Privilege – In many of these cases, the defendant and the alleged victim were involved in mutual physical combat. If the alleged victim touched the defendant at all during the incident, she has a right not to testify pursuant to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution (which states that any person who could potentially incriminate herself by her testimony has the right to refuse to testify in court).
Self-Defense – As always, if the defendant was being attacked and choked the victim in an effort to escape, he can assert self-defense at trial.
Attorney Chris Spring has dedicated his career to defending clients charged with violent crimes. If you are charged with strangulation or suffocation, please contact him to schedule a free consultation.