The lethality of strangulation is severe but proving it can be problematic. Difficulties may arise because of the lack of outward injuries, the defendant claiming self-defense, or the victim recanting previous statements. This course aims to unpack strangulation cases to help first responders, investigators, medical professionals, and prosecutors aid in building better cases despite the challenges presented.
This session’s resource speakers are Kate Loudenslagel and Hilary Weinberg. Kate is the Deputy County Attorney at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) for family violence and child abuse cases. Meanwhile, Hilary spent 20 plus years working with the MCAO where she was previously the Bureau Chief of Family Violence. She’s been assigned to multiple bureaus including Gangs, Training, Homicide, and currently Vehicular Crimes.
Points tackled in this webinar are:
- Defining what strangulation is, its types, its result and distinguishing it from choking.
- Studies highlighting the prevalence of strangulation in intimate partner violence, the profile of the suspect and victim, the challenges due to injuries that aren’t always visible, and its lethality.
- Arizona statute that classifies strangulation as a type of assault and is considered a felony if the parties involved are in a domestic relationship.
- Proving strangulation by looking at signs of strangulation which are outward, visible manifestations of the manner or mechanism of attack.
- Further evidence through symptoms of strangulation which relates to how the victim is feeling and the victim’s body is reacting to the incident.
- Anatomical details and features of the neck that must be explained thoroughly to the jury to demonstrate the area’s susceptibility to pressure and its effects.
- Guidelines on the process that the victim must go through:
- Specifics to document during the initial narrative.
- Signs and symptoms to take note of as part of the evidence.
- Running a forensic nurse exam to check on injuries, history and conduct other medical protocol.
- Stressing to the victims the importance of seeing a doctor and follow up as recommended by a medical professional for any symptoms they may experience.
- The importance of gathering witness statements to corroborate a strangulation claim and other details that may help prove previous abuse.
- Other pieces of evidence to help build a stronger case as documenting the full description of the fight, signs of struggle in the house, stretched, torn, or soiled clothing, and the suspect’s condition.
- Working on the case by proving the evidence of intent based on suspect’s words, previous arguments, conversations saved electronically, and details on the act of strangulation.
- Negating self-defense by looking at documented evidence and statements, the suspect’s fight or military expertise, the suspect’s injuries or lack thereof, and size disparities between the suspect and victim.
- The victim’s tendency to recant due to victimization and ongoing relationship with the suspect.
- Proving strangulation by highlighting its unique nature based on anatomy and its lethality, and pursuing evidence-based prosecution.
Kate and Hilary clarified points raised during the Q&A on:
- Overcoming a victim’s tendency to use the term choking instead of strangulation.
- How the victim’s level of victimization plays an integral part in them recognizing the gravity of strangulation as a crime.
- Handling a defense claim asserting that strangulation is part of sex play.
- Getting medical professionals to understand the value of preserving and documenting injuries and evidence.
- Dealing with law enforcement’s tendency to write ‘no visible injuries’ on their report.
- Intricacies concerning the medical professional’s role.
- Documenting bruising that hasn’t quite manifested yet.
- “The extreme lethality of this behavior, particularly for survivors of strangulation and their 800-fold increased risk for death if in the same environment or recurrent domestic violence. A very informative and valuable webinar, and thanks to the presenters Kate and Hilary.” — Anthony
- “A detailed explanation of the cycle of violence resulting in strangulation injury, and the cycle that continues even after the event.” — A
- “Great examples of what to use for real-life examples of how little force is needed to occlude carotid artery; great idea about asking as part of the investigation if the perp has military training or fighting experience.” — Christina
- “The information from the prosecutor’s perspective is great.” — Casey
- “I thought it was a great webinar and very informative from a prosecutor’s viewpoint on what to ask. Just having those helpful hints will help.” — Dixie
- “The entire presentation was very helpful, as it reinforced procedures that we have our officers currently follow.” — Daniel