The Oregon Senate has taken a much-needed step on behalf of domestic violence victims by elevating the seriousness of the crime of strangulation.
The upper chamber on Tuesday unanimously passed Senate Bill 1562, which expands the definition of strangulation and makes it a Class C felony when it is committed against a family member or happens in the context of domestic violence.
Under existing law, strangulation is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of 364 days and a maximum fine of $6,250. It currently becomes a Class C felony only if it is committed in the presence of a minor child, if the victim is under 10 years old, if the assailant uses, attempts or threatens to use a dangerous weapon, if the assailant was previously convicted of strangling, assaulting or menacing the victim or has three previous convictions for those crimes, or knows the victim is pregnant.
Those conditions leave far too much leeway for abusers who strangle a domestic partner or family member and walk away with a misdemeanor conviction. Strangulation is a terrifying experience for victims, who justifiably fear for their lives.
Under SB 1562, strangulation would become a felony if the victim is a member of the assailant's family or household, regardless of previous criminal convictions or the presence of children. A Class C felony carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $125,000 — which more accurately reflects the seriousness of the crime in a domestic situation.
Organizations representing prosecutors, police chiefs and county sheriffs support the bill, saying existing law doesn't take the safety of victims seriously. Domestic violence experts told lawmakers that strangulation can cause serious internal injuries.
This bill will help protect abuse victims from repeated attacks, and the House should follow the Senate's lead and give it prompt approval.