Measure making offense a felony approved 21-0
Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, said the unanimous vote gives the measure, aimed at plugging a hole in Delaware’s domestic violence laws, good momentum as it heads to the House for consideration.
“It was wonderful to have the bill creating this new crime pass the Senate unanimously,” said Blevins, the bill’s sponsor. “This is an important bill that will protect a lot of people.”
State Police Detective Nicole Parton, who investigates domestic violence cases, testified in support of the bill on the Senate floor. Parton has received special training to help spot strangulation cases and told senators the need for the new law is real.
“Strangulation is often the last act of abuse before a homicide, so it is a very serious issue,” Parton said. “There is an absolute need for this law. I have worked with several victims who would benefit from this law.”
If Senate Bill 197 clears the House in its current form and is signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell, strangulation would become a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Repeat offenders, or people whose attacks cause serious injuries, could face up to eight years in prison. Those tougher penalties also would apply in cases where an attacker was convicted of using a deadly weapon while committing the crime.
The bill has the backing of Attorney General Joseph “Beau” Biden III. Patricia Dailey-Lewis, director of the Justice Department’s family division, said the law is needed because prosecutors have a hard time making attacking strangulation cases. Currently, the cases are often plea bargained down to misdemeanors because it’s often hard to make other felonies stick.
“We were cobbling together pieces of the law to try to make the best fit for this crime,” she said. “With it, we believe we will be in a better position to prosecute this crime.”