Martinez is accused of strangling his girlfriend’s 14-year-old son. The judge gave the convicted felon a $100,000 cash-only bond, but since strangulation isn’t specifically outlined in our criminal or civil code, domestic violence advocates fear his child abuse charge could be pleaded down to a lesser crime.
New Mexico is one of only six states that don’t have strangulation or impeding breathing statute.
It’s something the New Mexico Coalition against Domestic Violence has been fighting for over the past three or four years. This year, the coalition has a new approach-adding the definition of strangulation and suffocation to three existing statutes.
“Our intent there, in cases like this, is to make it easier to charge these cases appropriately, to enhance the conviction rate, and most importantly, to be able to get people the medical help that they need,” said Policy Coordinator Lisa Weisenfeld.
The coalition against domestic violence has been working with State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto to introduce and pass a bill that would add the definition of strangulation and suffocation to three statutes: aggravated battery against a household member, child abuse and neglect, and the Family Violence Protection Act.
Director Lisa Weisenfeld said without legal definitions to help jurors in felony cases, prosecutors are forced to charge very serious acts of abuse as misdemeanor domestic violence. She also said someone who is strangled in a violent relationship is seven times more likely to be a homicide victim later on.
“Prosecutors, it’s very difficult for them to get a conviction,” Weisenfeld said.
“Many times, it’s pled down to a misdemeanor when it takes so little to kill somebody by doing this act. Five to 10 seconds, you can strangle someone to unconsciousness and they can die within five to ten minutes.”
According to Weisenfeld, in many cases, the survivor doesn’t have physical evidence that they’ve been strangled, and they often don’t go to the doctor to find out if they have any internal injuries. She said that makes it hard to prove that they were strangled when they go to court.
“What we want to do is so that jurors can get jury instructions that also make it really clear that a felony form of aggravated battery is strangulation or suffocation, so that it isn’t a guessing game,” Weisenfeld explained.
According to Weisenfeld, the strangulation bill failed in the past because it was attempting to add a new law to our criminal code, which legislators viewed as a costly measure. Weisenfeld expects Senator Ivey-Soto to introduce the definitional bill within the next few weeks.