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Domestic Battery Strangulation

In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed a new law making Family Violence Strangulation, Choking, or Suffocation a third-degree felony punishable. Strangulation in family violence cases involves an allegation that a person assaulted a family member, household member, or a person with whom he/she has a dating relationship by applying pressure to the victim’s neck or mouth and blocking the normal blood flow or normal breathing.

Because the crime often leaves behind very little physical evidence, police officers are quick to assume the allegations are true even when a more thorough investigation would show that the alleged victim was not being truthful. The allegations from the complaining witness are often the only basis for the arrest.

If you are charged with Family Violence Strangulation in Houston or Harris County or The Woodlands in Montgomery County, Texas, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Matt Horak has been representing men and women charged with assault related offenses, including serious domestic violence allegations since he entered private practice in 2006. Prior to that, he was an Assistant State Attorney with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Call him to discuss your case and the best way to mount an aggressive defense.

Penalties for Family Violence Strangulation in Texas

Domestic violence by strangulation in Texas is punishable by two to ten years in prison for the first offense. For a person with any prior conviction for an offense involving family violence, the crime can be charged as a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison if the person is convicted of the subsequent offense of family violence strangulation.

Prior to this new law taking effect in 2009, the majority of these cases were prosecuted as misdemeanor assault. In a few of these cases, the offense was charged as aggravated assault although the cases were more difficult to prove at trial.

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History of the Texas Strangulation Statute

The new provision under Texas law enacted in 2009 states that “…the offense is committed by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth.” Texas Penal Code Section 22.01(b)(2)(B).

The legislative history of the 2009 amendments show the reasons for adding a section to address domestic violence strangulation cases. The Bill analysis indicates that subsection (g) was enacted to “give prosecutors the discretion to try strangulation cases under the law that carries the most appropriate penalty … by stating that if conduct constituting strangulation also constituted another offense, the defendant could be prosecuted under either or both laws .” See House Comm. on Criminal Jurisprudence, Bill Analysis, Tex. H.B.2066, 81st Leg., R.S. (2009). See Shelby v. State, 03-10-00283-CR, 2013 WL 4822872 (Tex. App. Aug. 28, 2013), petition for discretionary review granted (Jan. 15, 2014).

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Types of Strangulation Allegations

When law enforcement officers investigate an allegation of domestic violence by strangulation or choking, the officer will look for different types of strangulation crimes including ligature, manual, and hanging. The officer will also look for signs of suffocation which is also included in the strangulation statute. Suffocation is just as potentially lethal as strangulation. Any of these types of strangulation or suffocation can lead to brain damage or other types of serious injury. In the most serious cases, death by asphyxiation by strangulation occurs. In other cases, no injury occurs.

The term “ligature” refers to an object such as a piece of rope or a chain used to strangle another person.

The term “manual strangulation” refers to using a part of a person’s body as a weapon. Manual strangulation usually involves using a person’s hands or arms to strangle the other person.

The term “hanging” refers to suspending a cord around a person’s neck and using the person’s body weight to aid in the strangulation. The term “suffocation” is defined to include any method of stopping the flow of air to the brain. A person can suffocate another person by covering the mouth and/or nose with the hand or another object such as a plastic bag or pillow. 

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Symptoms of Strangulation, Choking or Suffocation

After the new law took effect, many law enforcement officers throughout Harris County and Montgomery County underwent additional training on how to gather evidence in domestic assault and strangulation cases throughout the greater Houston area. The officers were told to look for the following types of symptoms or reports of these symptoms by the alleged victim:

  • Dizziness;
  • Headaches;
  • Red Spots on the neck or face due to the bursting of blood vessels caused by a restraining hold or choke hold).
    • These red spots call petechiae (pi-tee-kee-ie) by health care professionals often look like freckles and form around the nose, mouth, ears, and throat;
    • Red or bloodshot eyes caused when capillary rupture in the white portion of the eyes which is another form of petechiae;
  • Abrasions or marks under the chin;
  • Marks left from linear injuries such as a rope or chain around the neck;
  • Complaints of a stiff or sore neck;
  • Difficulty speaking;
  • Complaints of a sore throat or reports of trouble swallowing; or
  • Sounding “out of breath” or having a raspy voice caused by a broken trachea or the narrowing of the air tubes.

The most serious indication of serious injury includes involuntary defecation or urination, numbness of extremities, or behavioral symptoms such as amnesia, restlessness, and psychosis.

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Statistics Cited by the Texas Council on Family Violence

Advocates for tougher domestic violence laws often cite statistics showing a correlation between reports of strangulation, choking and suffocation, and an increased risk of lethality. Those statistics on domestic violence include:

    • “Strangulation is one of the top five risk factors for family violence homicide;
    • Strangulation can easily become a homicide.
    • Ten percent of violent deaths in the United States are attributable to strangulation, with six female victims to every male victim.
    • A family violence victim who has been strangled is nine times more likely to be killed than one who has not.
    • Often, there are only minor visible injuries, even if there are substantial internal injuries.”

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Investigations for Domestic Violence Strangulation in Texas

Reports of strangulation have increased dramatically since law enforcement officers have been encouraged to ask the following types of questions:

      • Has your partner ever put his hands around your neck?
      • Has your partner ever put pressure on your neck?
      • Has your partner ever covered your mouth and/or nose in a way that prevented you from breathing?
      • Has your partner ever pushed your face into a pillow, put a bag over your head, covered your mouth and nose with his hand, put a sock in your mouth, etc.?

By asking the questions the officers are encouraging a certain response instead of just letting the alleged victim explain what happened. In many of these cases, the alleged victim is seeking to retain custody or children or control of the family home. When false allegations are made, those false allegations becomes even more devastating when a felony version of the new strangulation statute is alleged.

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Additional Resources on Family Violence Strangulation in Texas

Family Violence Strangulation in Texas – Brochure on the new laws in Texas for Strangulation in Family Violence cases. Information for law enforcement officers, counselors, and heath care professionals on the laws and how to work with survivors from the Texas Council on Family Violence. The brochure described symptoms that often present themselves in domestic violence strangulation cases and ways to document injuries.

A Closer Look at Strangulation Cases – This article by Kelsey McKay was published in The Prosecutor, January-February 2014, Volume 44, No. 1, a publication of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA). The article concludes “This change in the law gives prosecutors a powerful new tool against abusers who strangle their victims. In the past, law enforcement often treated strangulation like a slap in the face, where only redness was present. With this change, law enforcement can now treat strangulation more in line with its serious nature. While the law was warranted, it has left most prosecutors with the difficulty of figuring out how to prove a felony-level assault beyond a reasonable doubt, without much evidence.”

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Finding a Strangulation Defense Attorney in Houston

If you are charged with any type of domestic violence or family violence allegation, including assault charges such as felony strangulation in Houston or The Woodlands, Texas, then contact experienced Houston criminal defense attorney Matt Horak. 

Call Horak Law at (713) 225-8000 to discuss the particular facts of your case to find out how you should fight false allegations. Matt Horak represents clients at all stages of the case including representing the respondent in petitioner for a domestic violence protective order or injunction.

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  • Texas Board of Legal Specialization | Criminal Law
  • National College for DUI Defense
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Laywers
  • Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association
  • Matt Horak has earned recognition for community leadership by Lawyer Legion