Police in the Richmond region appear to be making use of a new law that makes strangulation a felony. In Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield counties, police have made 124 arrests under the law since it went into effect July 1, 2012.
The law defines strangulation as impeding a person's circulation or respiration "by knowingly, intentionally, and unlawfully applying pressure to the neck" and causing injury. It's a class six felony, which carries a prison term of between one and five years or, at the discretion of a jury or judge, "confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both."
The passage of the law surprised some people. Wasn't it already illegal to strangle someone? Yes — but the charge that typically resulted was simple assault. In domestic-violence situations, even if "they've got a whole heck of a lot of bruises, that [was] still a misdemeanor assault," explains Sgt. Faith Flippo, the Richmond police officer in charge of youth and family crime in the major crimes division.
Strangulation is a common and serious crime, according to Safe Harbor, a local nonprofit that helps survivors of domestic violence. While victims may not show outward signs of injury, they may suffer long-term physical effects, Safe Harbor says. Nationwide, 10 percent of violent deaths are caused by strangulation.
Chesterfield reported the most arrests under the new law, charging 62 people with strangulation from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013. During roughly the same period, Henrico officers charged 38 people with strangulation and Richmond police made 24 strangulation arrests.
The ability to make these arrests seems to be a helpful tool, Flippo says, but it's judges who will have to get used to the new law. "So, in theory, it's a good law. In practice, we're still working that out."