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Sunday, April 10, 2011

New Law Targets Domestic Violence

New Law Targets Domestic Violence

Law enforcement in New York has made "an unprecedented response" to a new law designed to protect victims of domestic violence, state officials said Thursday in a teleconference with reporters.

Since charges of strangulation and "criminal obstructing of breathing or blood circulation" became effective Nov. 11 under state penal law, 2,003 arrests have been made in the state, according to data released by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

"We are excited," Amy Barasch, executive director of the state office of Prevention of Domestic Violence, said about the "robust" enforcement.

Sean M. Byrne, acting DCJS commissioner, said the high number of arrests in less than four months reflects how police previously had found it difficult to find appropriate charges to file against attackers who placed their victims in chokeholds.

Previously, the only applicable charge, assuming serious injury or death did not result, was harassment. The new law consists of two felony counts, first-degree and second-degree strangulation, and the misdemeanor of obstructing breathing and blood circulation. Of the arrests made so far, 83 percent were for the misdemeanor, Mr. Byrne said.

Under the misdemeanor, police and prosecutors need to show that the assailant applied pressure on the throat or neck, or blocked the nose or mouth of the victim. The law does not require police to have evidence of an injury because choking does not always leave marks or injuries, Mr. Byrne and Ms. Barasch said.

First-degree strangulation involves causing serious physical injury, while conditions for second-degree strangulation include causing a stupor, loss of consciousness or any other physical injury or impairment.

Strangulation is very common in domestic fights and can cause death within a matter of seconds, Ms. Barasch said.

According to data provided by Watertown police, state police and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, 14 arrests have been made in Jefferson County, with 11 occurring in the city. All but two cases still have prosecution pending. A Carthage man, Daniel J. Erwin, 21, pleaded guilty as charged in City Court, was sentenced to time he had served in jail and was assessed $200 in court fees.

In town of LeRay Court, Dmitri E. Quist, 27, Calcium, had the misdemeanor merged into third-degree assault, and he was granted a conditional discharge.

Mr. Byrne said the law places no limitations on prosecutors in disposing of the charge, so reductions and mergers are possible.

Anybody who is convicted of the misdemeanor is required to submit a DNA sample to the state's DNA databank.

"We expect to see that the DNA samples will contribute to solving more crimes," Mr. Byrne said.

Not all misdemeanor convictions carry that requirement. All convicted felons must submit DNA samples.

Lewis County is one of four counties that have had no arrests on the charges. St. Lawrence County has had 13, according to DCJS.

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