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Measure increases penalty for strangulation in domestic violence cases

A bill increasing the penalty for strangulation in domestic violence cases is on its way to Gov. John Kitzhaber after making it through the state Senate during the legislative session's final days.

House Bill 2940 makes strangulation in domestic violence cases a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The state Senate approved the measure 27-0, with three senators excused, June 24. It also was adopted in the House two days earlier by a unanimous vote.

Lawmakers adjourned the 2011 legislative session Thursday afternoon. They will reconvene in February 2012.

This is the fourth time legislators pushed to toughen the penalty for strangling someone during a domestic confrontation. The legislation that passed both chambers and is on its way to the governor's desk for a signature is a timely response to a statewide increase in deaths due to domestic violence, said Deputy Attorney General Erin Greenawald.

'There needs to be a deterrent like this,' she says. 'Research shows that women who are strangled are seven times more likely to be victims of attempted homicides or homicides later on.'

Up to now, someone trying to strangle a spouse during a domestic confrontation could only be charged with a misdemeanor. HB 2940 boosts the penalty to a felony.

Lane Borg, executive director of Metropolitan Public Defenders, isn't surprised that the bill passed.

'The prediction was that the Democrats would relent on crime issues and the Republicans would relent on education issues,' he says.

Borg thinks the new law could mean more frequent convictions for strangulation. A felony appeals to the district attorney's tendency to choose the heaviest charge in plea negotiations, he says.

Because strangulation is rarely the most serious offense now in cases that often include related crimes like assault, district attorneys often dismiss the strangulation charge during plea bargain talks, according to Borg.

'I think it's going to be a misread if all of the sudden, in a year, people go 'Oh my God, Oregonians are strangling each other more,' when really it's just a difference in the crime ledger,' Borg says.

An upsurge in the number of domestic violence cases that are charged as felonies will result in more money for public defenders, according to Borg. 'My unit's going to be very busy next year.'