Under the revised aggravated assault statute that takes affect July 1, someone commits that offense whenever they strangle their victim.
According to the revised statute, strangulation means impeding the normal breathing or circulation of blood of another person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by obstructing their nose and mouth.
The revised aggravated assault statute was signed into law two weeks ago by Gov. Nathan Deal. The language was added through the efforts of domestic victim’s advocates and prosecutors, including Athens-Clarke County Solicitor General C.R. Chisholm and Project Safe Executive Director Joan Prittie. The measure was cosponsored by Rep. Regina Quick, R-Athens.
The revision was needed because choking a victim in a domestic violence situation is a strong indication that the relationship might result with the victim being killed in the future, according to Prittie.
“The kicker about strangulation is most domestic violence victims who wind up being killed by their partners are not killed by strangulation,” Prittie said. “Strangulation just demonstrates a willingness by the offender to use lethal violence.”
Even though strangulation is defined as the act of choking someone until they are dead, Prittie and Chisholm didn’t want the word “choke” to appear in the revised statute to describe what victims endure.
“We minimize it culturally by calling it choking,” Prittie said. “You choke on food, but when someone puts their hands on you they are strangling you.”
While the maximum sentence offenders who strangle their victims can now receive when convicted of simple battery is one year in confinement, they will face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of aggravated assault.
“Making strangulation a felony at least lets you start at a higher level so that any plea bargaining will get you a better result,” Prittie said.
Now that it’s on the books, training is needed so that police officers, emergency medical personnel, hospital emergency staff and others who have contact with domestic violence victims will know the signs of strangulation, said Chisholm.
Often the act leaves no visible injuries, he said, but there are other signs that include a raspy voice, bloodshot eyes and involuntary urination.
Officers will need to have audio recordings of victims who have been choked to go along with photographs, statements and other evidence they collect, the prosecutor said.
Judges who sign arrest warrants and set bond conditions will also need to be educated on the revised statute.
Chisholm hopes the revised aggravated assault statute will not only lead to stiffer sentencing of offenders in the future, but also decrease the number of victims.