Helping domestic violence victims at heart of strangulation bill, sponsor says

12/28/2014 01:00 PM

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey hopes a bill he’s sponsoring in next year’s legislative session that identifies strangulation as a criminal offense will help victims of domestic violence.

The bill would define strangulation as a class A misdemeanor with aggravating circumstances, such as strangling a child, threatening to use a deadly weapon or strangling a victim unconscious, upping the crime to a class D felony.

Currently, strangulation is loosely defined in the state’s assault laws, said McGarvey, D-Louisville. His bill, pre-filed Nov. 21, would also add strangulation to a list of substantial violations in domestic violence orders.

“Basically what we’re trying to say is look, here is an instance in strangulation where we know that this is a really serious physical threat, and we’re really trying to focus on it in the domestic context,” McGarvey said in a phone interview with Pure Politics.

McGarvey credits his volunteer work in helping Jefferson County domestic violence victims get protective orders as the impetus for the proposed legislation.

“There are certain red flags that pop up to show that a woman really could be in serious risk of danger, and one of these is strangulation,” he said. “The studies have shown repeatedly that if a woman is strangled, especially in a domestic dispute, that she is much more likely to have serious harm inflicted on her at a later time.”

Another concern, McGarvey said, is the instant danger of choking someone unconscious.

“There’s been numerous medical studies that when you are strangled, the immediate cut-off of oxygen can have serious effects that happen very quickly,” he said. “It’a not like the movies where you have to be strangled for a minute or two for some harm to happen. This is a very violent act.”

McGarvey believe his bill will be another tool for prosecutors in protecting victims of domestic violence, if it passes in the upcoming session. The Democrat filed a similar piece of legislation last year, which drew bipartisan co-sponsors such as Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville and Democratic Sen. Denise Harper Angel of Louisville.

The support of Westerfield, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will be key as last year’s offering died in the judiciary panel. The bill, Senate Bill 233, hit the Senate too late in a budget session, McGarvey said, noting he has discussed the proposed legislation “extensively” with Westerfield.

“I think it’s a bill that’s good for a hearing, and I think that Sen. Westerfield, obviously as a former prosecutor, appreciates what we’re trying to do here and so he’s been helpful,” McGarvey said.

A similar bill filed by Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, last year also died in committee.

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