Currently, the state’s district attorneys handle nonlethal strangulations differently. By statute, they can prosecute such cases as petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors or felonies.
“Strangulation is not getting picked up as a felony in many cases,”said Ivey-Soto, who has prosecuted domestic violence cases. “Yet strangulation is a sign of ramped-up abuse levels in domestic-violence cases.”
“This serves to clarify the law and clearly state that strangulation and suffocation are felonies,” said Edna Sprague, deputy district attorney from the 2nd Judicial District in Bernalillo.
She said the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office prosecutes about 600 domestic-violence cases a year and, of those, 90 percent involve strangulation. All those are handled as felonies.
It takes less than half a minute to strangle someone into unconsciousness, and it requires less pressure per square inch than opening a soda can, witnesses said.
“A woman can strangle a man as easily as the reverse,” said Jamie Gagan, an emergency room doctor at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, who testified before the committee.
“There is a misconception that strangulation is not a crime,” said Gagan, who heads the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program. “It is not the same as choking.”
“If the brain isn’t given oxygen for one to two minutes, there can be permanent and irreversible damage to parts of the brain,” she said.
A person strangled for only 15 or 20 seconds can lose consciousness. “If no scar, if no bruise, if no fracture there is a tendency to think nothing serious happened,” Gagan added.
Strangulation and suffocation are favorite weapons used by abusers to control their victims, said Daniel Manzano, director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which represents 27 agencies around the state.
A committee room, packed primarily with women, raised their hands when asked who supported the bill.
Strangulation survivor Lynette Cooley Waters recounted in emotional testimony how her ex-partner strangled and then tried to suffocate her last year. She said he received two years of probation. She has a restraining order against him. “I am always looking over my shoulder,” she said.
SB 262 will be heard next in the Senate Judiciary Committee.