Do New Anti-Strangulation Laws Go Too Far With Too Little?

Domestic violence is a scourge that affects an estimated 1.3 million Americans every year. Yet, whiledomestic violence is certainly a serious problem, outrage surrounding the issue may cloud public discourse; it can be easily forgotten that alleged perpetrators are innocent until proven guilty, with all the rights due anyone accused of wrongdoing.

In Florida and other states, “anti-strangulation” laws have been introduced in order to combat what is seen as a relatively common and particularly harmful form of partner abuse. While the intentions behind these laws are admirable, all too often they call into question the efficacy of due process in the domestic violence context.

Florida’s Law Targets Strangulation, but Calls for Little In Terms Of Proof

In Florida, a person commits ” domestic battery by strangulation” by knowingly and intentionally creating a risk of great bodily harm by applying pressure to the throat or neck, or blocking the nose or mouth such that normal breathing or circulation is impeded; the victim must be a family member, household member, or someone whom the perpetrator is dating. To cut through the legalese, domestic battery by strangulation is self descriptive: it means cutting off an intimate’s airflow against his or her will. The crime is quite serious, a felony of the third degree.

To date, approximately 30 states have passed similar laws, most of them lauded as a way to bring some of the worst domestic violence offenders to justice. But, considering that many of these strangulation laws do not require signs of physical injury for a conviction, some experts fear that they may allow for excessive prosecution.

William Umansky, an Orlando criminal defense attorney and former domestic violence prosecutor, was quoted by the Associated Press about his state’s anti-strangulation law: “Domestic violence is always bad, but the way I see it commonly prosecuted, there’s no ligature marks on the woman’s throat, no evidence of bruising. Just the verbal allegation, and all of a sudden, there’s a felony charge.”

Umansky’s concern is not unfounded: the Florida law allows for a felony conviction without any objective proof of a victim’s injury. This can create situations in which prosecutors are able to lay a felony charge on the table with very little evidence, oftentimes solely to elicit a guilty plea to a lesser offense and discourage defendants from exercising their right to defend against allegations.

Contact a Defense Lawyer About Your Individual Circumstances

Domestic violence is undoubtedly destructive to families and individuals. Just the same, overenthusiastic laws like Florida’s anti-strangulation statute can be problematic, at times serving to erode the due process rights of the accused.

One thing is clear: if you are facing accusations of domestic strangulation in the Sunshine State, you future is at stake. Protect yourself and make the right choice by contacting a criminal defense attorney about your case.