Ohio Lawmakers Look to Increase Penalties for Strangulation from a Misdemeanor to a Felony

Ohio lawmakers are working to pass a law that would help protect domestic violence survivors and make strangulation a felony in the state.

Senate Bill 90 introduced by co-sponsors State Senators Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), aims to prohibit impeding breathing or circulation of family members.

“By changing strangulation from a misdemeanor to a felony we are creating a cooling off period between a first incident and the possibility of a second. This cooling off period would allow victims to seek legal or medical assistance that could ensure these women are survivors and not victims and are connected to valuable resources to help them,” Kunz said.

A 2009 study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine found that strangulation increased the risks of homicide for a woman by more than 700%.

According to the University of Cincinnati Law Review, strangulation that causes death is charged as a homicide. In Ohio, strangulation that is not fatal is charged either as misdemeanor assault or as domestic violence, also a misdemeanor, with no prison time for a first conviction. Felonious assault, which does carry a prison sentence, requires proof of intention to cause harm.

Attorney Adam Burke states that penalties for misdemeanors include at the most, a year in the local jail, as well as fines of up to $1,000, depending on the crime committed. If convicted of a classified felony in Ohio, a perpetrator’s sentence will be within a certain range: First-degree felonies equate to 3 years to 11 years in prison and a maximum of $20,000 in fines. Second-degree felonies equate to 2 years to 8 years in prison and a maximum of $15,000 in fines.

The Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) reports that 112 people died from domestic violence in Ohio this past year including 22 young victims, according to the annual fatality count.

According to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention (TISP), nearly four in five victims of strangulation are strangled manually (with hands). And almost all, or 97 percent of strangulation attempts, also involve blunt force trauma.

TISP notes that after four minutes, the starvation of oxygen to the brain may cause lasting injury including, coma, seizures, and potentially death.

Strangulation injuries, the groups says, can include psychological injury (PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, memory problems, nightmares, anxiety, severe stress reaction, amnesia, and psychosis), neurological injury (facial or eyelid droop, left or right side weakness, loss of sensation, loss of memory, and paralysis), and even delayed fatality.

The technical definition of a brain injury caused by strangulation is a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, or HIB.

The office of the Ohio Public Defender testified against the bill saying criminal defense lawyers agree the law should change. But the defenders say Kunze’s bill could conceivably ensnare mothers who quiet their children by covering their mouths or brothers who grab each other’s necks in a wrestling match.

The state’s prosecuting attorneys are in favor of the bill.

“It’s time for them to pass it. It’s embarrassing at this point,” Lou Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association said.

Attorney General Dave Yost “believes Ohio should have a strangulation offense on the books and that this offense should not be limited solely to members of your household,” spokesman Luke Sullivan said.

According to Forensic Health Care Consulting, There is a growing body of research that has shown strangulation to be a very lethal form of violence

“The health consequences may only be temporary, but many times are permanent and life-long. Strangulation is the ultimate form of power and control. One does not need to have a gun. One only needs to reach out his hand and he controls her very next breath,” Ruth Downing Founder and President of Forensic Healthcare Consulting said.

“This is not just a law that punishes one person for a crime committed to another this is a law that would help protect the citizens of Ohio from the most dangerous people in society,” Paula Walters Domestic Abuse Survivor testified in favor of the bill.

This is not the first time Kunze has advocated for this proposal. Kunze wrote her first bill HB 362 as a State House member, and she won passage 97-0 in 2016. The legislation died in the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee. In 2017, Kunze, a first-term senator, reintroduced her bill and pushed it to a 30-0 passage. The bill died in the House. In 2019, Kunze and State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Cleveland) tried again. That bill died in the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee. According to Training Institution on Strangulation Prevention, in 2020, the state House passed 94-0 a women’s protection bill that would have written the word strangulation expressly into the domestic violence law. That bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers have until the third week of December to pass the legislation in lame-duck before reintroducing the bill.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Stephanie Kunze” by State Senator Stephanie Kunze. Photo “Nickie Antonio” by Nickie J. Antonio. Background Photo “Ohio Statehouse” by 
. CC BY-SA 4.0.


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