A charge of strangulation under Virginia law is a serious offense. With it comes a felony charge and penalties which can greatly affect your life and your freedom. The law regarding strangulation was passed in 2012 because of increased concern about domestic violence. In fact, in many cases the two charges, domestic assault, and strangulation, are charged together, resulting in increased penalties.
If you or someone you care about has been charged with strangulation in Virginia, attorney Bryan J. Jones can provide you with the advice you need to protect your rights. You do not have to plead guilty just because you are charged with a crime.
What is Strangulation?
The charge of strangulation is found in Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-51.6. It states:
Any person who, without consent, impedes the blood circulation or respiration of another person by knowingly, intentionally, and unlawfully applying pressure to the neck of such person resulting in the wounding or bodily injury of such person is guilty of strangulation, a Class 6 felony.
Understanding each of the elements, or parts, of the charge is important in knowing how to defend your criminal case. With the help of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, you can protect your constitutional rights.
Breaking it Down
To be convicted of the charge of strangulation, the Commonwealth of Virginia must prove each of the elements of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Before you can be convicted, the prosecutor must prove that the alleged offender:
- knowingly, intentionally, and unlawfully;
- without consent;
- stopped blood circulation or breathing;
- by applying pressure to a person's neck;
- causing bodily injury or a wound to that person.
Knowingly and Intentionally
The prosecutor must prove that the alleged offender meant to strangle a person by applying pressure to the neck. Unintentional or accidental acts do not apply under this charge.
The prosecutor must prove that the strangulation was without the other person's consent. To some, it may seem unlikely that anyone would consent to be strangled, but in certain circumstances consent may actually have been given. For example, during certain sex acts or some kinds of martial arts/fighting.
Stopping Blood Circulation or Respiration
There must be evidence which shows that the alleged offender stopped the circulation of blood in the neck, or prevented the alleged victim from being able to breathe while grasping that person's neck. If no evidence exists that this occurred, the charge will not stand.
Applying Pressure to Another Person's Neck
There must be evidence that pressure was actually applied to the other person's neck by the alleged offender. Proof of this is usually shown by:
- Alleged victim's testimony,
- Markings or bruises on the neck,
- Symptoms of lack of circulation or ability to breathe (i.e. brain damage caused by lack of oxygen),
- Injuries to the neck or throat.
Causing Bodily Injury or a Wound
There has to be at least some physical injury which occurred to the alleged victim. The injury does not have to be severe or significant. Nearly any injury will apply, so long as each of the previous elements is proven by a Virginia prosecutor. Injury just has its normal, everyday, common meaning. Bruising can be enough to qualify as bodily injury.
Each of the elements of the charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If any one element is not sufficiently proven, you are not guilty of the crime of strangulation.
When a Virginia prosecutor believes he or she will be unable to prove all of the elements, you may be charged with attempted strangulation. This means that you are accused of trying to commit the offense of strangulation. In other words, you are alleged to have unsuccessfully tried to strangle someone. Like the actual charge of strangulation, attempted strangulation is a Class 6 felony subject to the same penalties as strangulation.
Penalty for Strangulation in Virginia
According to Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-51.6, strangulation is a Class 6 felony in Virginia. If convicted, you face the following penalties:
- 1 to 5 years in state prison, or
- Confinement in jail for up to 12 months, and
- A fine of up to a maximum of $2,500.
If convicted, you not only face the penalties listed above but the label of a "felon." As a felon, your rights are limited. You will now have to answer "yes" on any form which asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony. This may make it harder to gain and maintain employment. You also lose many important civil rights, like the right to bear a firearm and the right to vote.
Defenses to Strangulation in Virginia
While every case is different, and different defenses may apply to your case, your Virginia criminal attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case to present the best defense. Some of the following could be used to prevent or reduce your conviction.
Present Reasonable Doubt
The Virginia prosecutor is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every element of the charge of strangulation. Your criminal defense attorney can show that there are inconsistencies in the prosecutor's case, creating doubt in the mind of the jury. Your attorney can also attempt to show that you were not the guilty party, or you did not strangle the alleged victim.
In many cases, eyewitness identification can simply be wrong. A suspect may be innocent and be accused of a crime only because he or she looks vaguely like the individual who actually committed the crime. With proper investigation and a challenge from your attorney, the jury can see the many problems with eyewitness identification.
Further, police line-ups must conform to specific constitutional requirements. If the line-up which was used to identify you was not properly performed, that evidence against you could be suppressed.
Suppression of Certain Evidence
Suppression is a legal mechanism which excludes evidence which was wrongfully acquired by the prosecution. If law enforcement did not follow the constitutional requirements for the collection of evidence, such as when a warrant is required, that evidence which was wrongfully obtained can be excluded from your case. In some instances, this can result in the dismissal of your charges, especially if the evidence excluded connected you in some way to the case.
Consult Your Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney
A conviction for strangulation carries serious criminal penalties and the label of felon. Remember, even if the police and prosecutor treat you like you are guilty, you still have legal rights and defenses.
Contact Virginia criminal defense attorney Bryan J. Jones to help you fight strangulation charges in Virginia. Contact us today.