Assault by Strangulation

In Maryland, it is a crime to commit an assault against another person through the intentional strangling, suffocating, or impeding of the normal breathing or circulation of blood of another by applying pressure to the other person’s throat or neck or by blocking the other person’s nose or mouth.

Although such allegations often arise as a form of domestic violence in Baltimore, MD, a domestic relationship is not a necessary element of the crime under Maryland law. Strangulation is defined as a form of asphysia or lack of oxygen to the brain characterized by closure of the blood vessels and/or air passages of the neck as a result of external pressure on the neck. The three most common forms of strangulation are manual, ligature, and hanging.

Several studies cited by law enforcement and domestic violence groups suggest that between 23% to 68% of female victims of domestic violence have experienced at least one strangulation assault or attempted suffocation by a male partner during their lifetimes. Although such allegations are usually made against men, women can also be charged with this serious criminal offense.

Strangulation assaults pose a challenge to law enforcement and prosecutors because these often leave no marks or external evidence of an injury on the skin or body. Domestic violence experts also recognize that since little evidence is left behind, the potential for false allegations of strangulation are particularly likely and the consequences of such false allegations are particularly devastating.

Attorneys for Assault by Strangulation in Baltimore, MD

If you were charged with assault by strangulation then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Baltimore, Maryland, at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates. Attorney Jim Crawford is experienced in fighting assault and domestic violence cases throughout the courtrooms in the city and county of Baltimore, Maryland, and the surrounding areas throughout the entire state.

Our attorneys understand how to investigate false allegations and preserve the proof of limited signs of visible injuries or medical symptoms. We also understand why law enforcement officers inadvertently encourage the alleged victim to report strangulation when such charges are not appropriate or supported by any other evidence in the case. Recent Statistics on Assault by Strangulation in Maryland.

Statistics on Assault by Strangulation Crimes in Maryland

Allegations of assault by strangulation are relatively common in the State of Maryland. In fact, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) conducted intakes at its correctional facilities for 963 individuals convicted of second-degree assault charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor in fiscal 2016. Out of that group, 836 individuals were convicted of second-degree assault as their most serious offense. The DPSCS reported that the average sentence for these individuals was 44.1 months in prison.

During fiscal 2016, DPSCS conducted intakes on 350 individuals for felony first-degree assault. Of that group, 266 of these individuals were convicted of first-degree assault was their most serious offense. The DPSCS reported that the average sentence for these individuals was 106.7 months in prison.

The Correct Use of Terms in Strangulation Cases

The term “choking” describes an accidental that is caused by an object. The term implies a lesser degree of harm or distress and tends to minimize that a violent act against a person has occurred. If the victim uses the term “choke” and she/he was actually strangled, officers in Baltimore and throughout Maryland are trained to put the victim’s use of the word “choke” in quotes in the police report.

Interview Questions in a Strangulation Case

When interviewing an alleged victim of domestic violence involving strangulation, the officers are trained to ask simple, direct questions, that will enable them to develop evidence, indicate the attacker’s intentions, possibly indicate the extent of injury, and assess the level of existing and continuing danger to the victim. Those questions include:

  • Do you have any current pain or discomfort?
  • Where, and to what extent?
  • Have you noticed any change in voice or speech?
  • Are you having difficulty speaking or breathing?
  • Did the attacker use one or both hands?
  • Did the attacker use his forearm?
  • Was the attacker wearing rings or a watch?
  • How long did the throat-grab or strangulation last?
  • Did the victim feel faint, dizzy or pass out?
  • Have there been any previous attempts at strangulation?
  • Do you have any pre-existing injuries?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What did the assailant say prior to, during, and after he was strangling victim?
  • What caused the assailant to stop the assault?
  • Were you able to inflict an injury on your assailant?
  • How and where?

Penalties for Assault Crimes Prosecuted in Baltimore, MD

The crime of assault is prohibited under Maryland law and commonly prosecuted in the courtrooms throughout the city and county of Baltimore, MD. The criminal consequences of an assault and the potential penalties vary depending on the circumstances involved.

First-degree Assault

A person commits a first-degree assault if he/she does one of the following:

  1. intentionally causes or attempts to cause serious physical injury to another person; or
  2. commits an assault with a firearm, including a handgun, assault pistol, machine gun, or other specified firearms.

Maryland law makes the first-degree version of assault punishable as a felony subject to imprisonment for up to 25 years. In many strangulation cases, the arresting officer will consider charging the offense as a First Degree Assault under CR § 3-202.

Felony Second-degree Assault

A person commits a felony second-degree assault if he/she intentionally causes “physical injury” to another if the person knows or has reason to know that the other person is:

  1. a law enforcement officer or parole or probation agent engaged in the performance of the officer/agent’s official duties; or
  2. a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, a rescue squad member, or any other first responder engaged in providing emergency medical care or rescue services.

The term “physical injury” as defined for purposes of Maryland’s assault statutes means any impairment of physical condition, excluding minor injuries. A violation of Maryland’s second-degree assault statute is subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a maximum fine of $5,000.

Misdemeanor Second-degree Assault

The misdemeanor second-degree assault statute applies to assaults that are not considered to be felony assaults in the first or second degree. Under the misdemeanor second-degree assault statute, a person is prohibited from committing an assault. A violator is subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a maximum fine of $2,500.

Assault includes the crimes of assault, battery, and assault and battery, which are defined through case law in the State of Maryland.

Additional Resources

Investigation Domestic Violence / Assault by Strangulation – The Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) was required to conducting a review to develop a lethality screening protocol and training for law enforcement officers to use when investigating complaints of domestic violence and assault by strangulation or suffocation. This requirement was imposed on MPTSC by Chapter 651 of 2016 (HB 1371 of 2016). The Lethality Assessment Program Report was submitted in December 2016. A lesson plan on domestic violence-related nonfatal strangulation was issued shortly thereafter.  MNADV national, statewide, and local domestic violence training helps advocates, counselors, social workers, health care providers, and law enforcement officers.

Investigating Crimes of Assault by Strangulation in Maryland – The Model Domestic Violence Policy for the Maryland Law Enforcement Community was last updated in July of 2013. The manual sets out the standard operating procedures for recognizing and investigating strangulation cases. Find statistics on a recent study involving 300 strangulation cases in which nearly all of the victims were women (+99%). Find the correct use of the terms choking, strangulation, and suffocation. Find out more about the medical symptoms after strangulation and the best ways to investigate the cases, and the best ways to write the report.