A misdemeanor, assault and battery carries a maximum sentence of 2 1/2 years in county jail. Strangulation/suffocation can be upped to 10 years in prison if the crime meets one of four conditions: if it results in serious bodily injury; is a second or subsequence offense; is committed on a pregnant woman; or is done in violation of a pending restraining order.
Northwestern DA David E. Sullivan was among the supporters of the new law. Authorities hope that the greater consequences will be a deterrent to the plethora of domestic violence offenses. Defense lawyers have their doubts.
“The overall problem is societal-based,” said Jonah Goldsmith, the supervising attorney for the Northampton Public Defenders Office. “More attention should be given to the breakdown of families.”
Goldsmith believes there was already a sufficient arsenal of laws to address the different levels of domestic violence. He’s not sold on the idea that the new law will be a deterrent.
“You can’t do it just by upping the ante,” he said. “We still have to make sure that each individual case is looked on separately.”
Suhl said that studies show the hands-on-throat reaction occurs in many off the hundreds of domestic violence cases her office tracks every year. Sometimes the attacker tries to stop the victim’s breathing in other ways, hence the suffocation alternative.
“It’s intentional restriction of breathing, either by the neck or placing the hands over the victim’s mouth or nose,” she said.
On one day alone this week, four defendants were charged with strangulation/suffocation in Northampton District Court.