CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new crime is now defined in state law.
This month, a felony crime of strangulation, including a definition of strangulation as “knowingly and willfully restricting another person’s air intake or blood flow by the application of pressure on the neck or throat,” was added to West Virginia’s books.
With that law, passed as HB 4362, any person who strangles another person without consent and causes bodily injury or loss of consciousness can be charged with a felony offense of strangulation. If convicted, the possible sentence is one to five years and a fine of $2,500.
“Prior to this law, there had to be an element of physical injury or intent to kill, something like that, in order to get a felony level charge when often strangulation can result in death or near death with merely red marks or, sometimes, no visible injuries at all,” explained Joyce Yadlosky, team coordinator for the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“Bodily injury” in this law is defined as substantial physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.
In the past, possible charges for strangulations were limited to malicious wounding, a felony, if injuries were visible, or misdemeanors including assault and battery, domestic assault and domestic battery among others.
Yadlosky said the goal of the new law is to save lives.
“Strangulation is an indicator that someone might actually kill someone,” she told MetroNews, citing a study from the Journal of Emergency Medicine. “Someone who strangles someone is seven times more likely to kill them in the future.”
The Legislature first passed the legislation during the 2015 Regular Legislative Session, but Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it then because, in his view, it duplicated existing law.
A comparable bill again came out of the Senate and House of Delegates during the 2016 Regular Legislative Session. Yadlosky said Tomblin signed the bill this year after receiving more information, including medical evidence, about its necessity.
In the lead-up to the law change, Yadlosky said she heard from law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victims and victims’ advocates “who were all coming forward with actual cases where strangulation had occurred and where law enforcement and/or prosecutors felt like their hands were tied by our prior laws,” Yadlosky said.
The new law took effect on June 5.