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Strangulation laws have immediate impact

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WBFO news photo
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The Family Justice Center

By Joyce Kryszak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-962261.mp3

Buffalo, NY – State law enforcement officials said new strangulation laws are quickly being put to use to fight domestic violence. Since the laws went on the books in November, more than 2,000 people have been arrested for strangulation statewide.

Under the new statutes, charges can range from a misdemeanor to C and D felony counts, all of which carry possible jail time.

Prior to the laws, someone who strangled a victim could only be charged with harassment. Sean Byrne is acting Commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. He said the swift and numerous arrests prove the laws were needed.

"It's unprecedented, it's staggering," said Byrne. "It's a matter of substantial encouragement to us that this important and necessary niche is being filled by this new statute."

So far, 81 people in Erie County have been arrested under the new laws. State data show most are cases of domestic violence. Mary Travers Murphy is Executive Director for the Family Justice Center of Erie County. Travers Murphy said strangulation should not be ignored or minimized - either by the law or by victims.

"We know that is serious control, and power, and abuse and that these are the cases that we need to tell our victims you need to proceed with the greatest of caution. Those cases can turn very, very dangerous, very, very quickly," said Travers Murphy.

Data show victims of strangulation are ten times more likely to become victims of homicide. But Travers Murphy said victims can escape safely by working with advocates to develop a safety plan.

And she said the FJC has new technology that assists with prosecution of strangulation cases.

"We now have a new alternative light source that our registered nurse is using when she takes the pictures," said Travers Murphy. "That can much better capture the fingerprinting on the neck or the pooling of blood under the surface of the skin. And this makes very solid evidence for the district attorney's office."

However, even without physical evidence, officials said a misdemeanor charge of strangulation can be prosecuted.