As a result of a campaign by anti-domestic violence groups, South Dakota this year joined a growing list of states that have made non-fatal choking a felony crime, reports the Associated Press. The new laws are intended not only to secure tough prison sentences for domestic abusers but also to promote awareness of a crime advocates say often precedes homicide yet is chronically under-prosecuted.
Attempted strangulation cases have long vexed police and prosecutors seeking stiff penalties for attacks. The act can leave victims close to death, but unlike blows that produce a black eye or broken nose, it often leaves few, if any, external signs of injury needed to prove a felony assault charge. Suffocation cases have historically been handled as misdemeanors that don’t reflect the act’s severity or carry meaningful punishment. About 30 states have passed laws, most in the past decade, making it a felony under certain conditions to knowingly impede someone’s breathing. Leading the campaign is the National Family Justice Center Alliance, a San Diego anti-domestic violence group that has received a $400,000 U.S. Justice Department grant to fund a strangulation training institute.