Governor Tom Wolf recently signed Senate Bill 275 into law, making it so that someone who has previously been convicted of strangulation can have that conviction considered during sentencings for future criminal cases. The new law also allows for someone who has been convicted of strangulation to have that conviction considered during child custody proceedings.
The General Assembly approved a law in 2016 that made strangulation a criminal offense. The new law, which goes into effect on August 4, 2020, will fully integrate that offense in Pennsylvania's laws to ensure strangulation is classified in the same way as other similar violent crimes.
“Domestic violence is a horrific crime and we must do everything we can to hold abusers accountable,” said Governor Wolf. “This new law is an appropriate step to protect victims and their children as they address the trauma caused by these experiences.”
Why this law exists
Before the 2016 strangulation law was passed, it was difficult for courts to handle domestic violence allegations of strangulation when the victim did not have an obvious physical injury or marks. The 2016 strangulation law makes it clear that a physical injury is not required to prove domestic violence strangulation, which makes it easier for people who are accused of abuse to be charged.
According to the 2016 law, someone has committed criminal strangulation when they knowingly or intentionally impede another person's breathing or blood flow by applying pressure to the neck or throat, or by blocking the victim's mouth and nose.
If you have been abused by a spouse or partner, or another member of your household, I can help you get a Protection from Abuse order to keep you safe from further threat.
What it means for child custody proceedings
In every state, including Pennsylvania, how custody of a child is assigned is based on what is best for the child, not what is best or most fair for the parents. A judge will look at the case from every angle in order to decide where the child should live, which is known as physical custody, and who should make decisions for the child, which is known as legal custody. One of the factors the judge will consider is if there has been any domestic violence in the home and if there is a continued risk of abuse or harm to the child.
A single episode of domestic violence, even if it results in a conviction, may not be reason enough for a judge to decline to award custody to the abusive parent, but any history of domestic violence in the past five years will be considered by the judge. The new law allows a strangulation conviction to be among the things the judge will consider when deciding the safest, healthiest environment for the child.
If you have been convicted of domestic violence, or if you have been the victim of domestic violence, and now are in a situation where who will get custody of your child will be determined by a judge, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.