Strangulation, Impeded Breathing, Aggravated Assault, Domestic Violence in Arizona


No Matter What You Call It, Arizona’s Strangulation Laws is No Choke!

Strangulation or choking, when the victim’s ability to breathe has been impeded, is a form of domestic violence that can be charged as a Class 4 Felony in Arizona. As a board-certified criminal law specialist in Phoenix, Arizona, I have represented more than a thousand clients facing felony, aggravated assault charges for more than three decades. Domestic violence charges are always serious and often complex cases. A felony charge for Aggravated Assault adds another layer of risk and punishment to Arizona’s already over-bearing criminal code. Understanding Arizona’s domestic violence and aggravated assault laws are essential for formulating a defense to prevent a felony record, reduce or eliminate incarceration,  and other life-changing consequences.

What is the Difference Between Assault and Aggravated Assault?

Assault or Simple Assault is a misdemeanor in Arizona. To be found guilty of simple assault, the prosecution must prove that you:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused any physical injury to another person; or
  • Intentionally put another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury; or
  • Knowingly touched another person with the intent to injure, insult, or provoke that person

An example of simple assault might be forcefully pushing or grabbing someone leaving a red mark or bruise.

Aggravated Assault is a felony in Arizona. The Arizona law provides for the misdemeanor assault to be increased to a felony when it takes place with any number of additional, designated factors. Those factors may include but are not limited to the presence or use of a weapon or deadly instrument, an adult upon a minor, where the victim is the police, fire, or medical personnel.

Aggravated Assault can also take place where a simple assault results in a “serious” injury. A serious injury is one involving a broken bone or permanent disfigurement.  I have defended those accused of causing an injury such as a ¼ inch scar, broken nose, and more substantial injuries such as broken ribs, missing limbs, etc

Aggravated Assault for Impeded Breathing– In 2010, Arizona created a new type of aggravated assault explicitly based on a person strangling or choking another person. When the assaulter and the victim have a relationship that could be classified as a domestic violence relationship under the domestic violence statute A.R.S. § 13-3601, the court can enhance the sentence to include the collateral consequences of committing a felony, domestic violence offense.

  • Felony Classification. Aggravated assault based on strangulation or suffocation and a domestic violence relationship is a Class 4 Felony and Domestic Violence Offense.
  • Elements. The prosecution must prove that you committed an assault and that you intentionally or knowingly impeded the normal breathing or circulation of blood of another person:
    • by applying pressure to the throat or neck, or
    • by obstructing the nose and mouth
    • either manually or through the use of an instrument; and

You have any domestic violence relationship as listed in A.R.S. 13-3601, including relationships such as:

      • You and the victim are married or were married;
      • You and the victim are roommates or were roommates;
      • You and the victim have a child or are pregnant together;
      • The victim is your or your spouse’s parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother, or sister (by blood or adoption);
      • The victim is your stepparent, step-grandparent, stepchild, step-grandchild;
      • You and the victim are currently or were previously in a romantic or sexual relationship.

What’s the Difference Between Strangulation and Impeded Breathing?

Choking or strangulation are common allegations in domestic violence situations but choking or strangling does not necessarily rise to a felony aggravated assault charge. If you wrap your hands or arm around someone’s neck forcefully in an emotionally charged situation, most people will call that choking or strangling. While that is an assault and domestic violence, it is not likely a felony unless you actually impede the victim’s ability to breathe.

When the Police Investigate Domestic Violence with Impeded Breathing

Domestic violence situations are not always like an episode of “Cops.” The police don’t usually show up and pry your fingers off your girlfriend’s throat and see her face turn blue because she can’t breathe. In most cases, they will show up after the fact. Hours or even days after the incident happened. So, when police investigate domestic violence cases where the victim’s ability to breathe was impeded, they must rely on other evidence.

When the police arrive, they may take photographs, interview witnesses, and collect physical evidence at the scene. If the victim has been choked or strangled, they are typically taken to a medical facility where experts in domestic violence crimes will interview them; medical specialists will examine and conduct testing on them.

These experts and specialists are highly trained and skilled at determining if the victim’s breathing was wholly restricted. They look for signs of broken blood vessels, bruising, and other telltale indicators that the victim could not breathe, not just strangled.  Their findings and the victim’s statement are compiled and delivered to prosecutors along with the evidence police collected at the scene.

If the victim claims they could not breathe and the medical report and other evidence support that, you will likely be charged with felony aggravated assault. In some cases, the victim’s statement or evidence is not strong enough to support a felony charge. In that case, the prosecution may send it back to the city prosecutor for misdemeanor assault prosecution. However, when the allegation of impeded breathing is raised, at least in Maricopa County, the matter will be submitted to prosecutors for felony consideration.

Prosecutors are Aggressive: You Need an Aggressive Criminal Defense Attorney

A few years ago, Maricopa County’s criminal prosecution unit received a huge federal grant. That grant was explicitly designated for investigating and prosecuting domestic violence cases, and it substantially changed how domestic violence cases involving strangulation/impeded breathing are investigated and prosecuted. If you are the accused in one of these cases, you can look forward to a highly aggressive prosecution.

Now, more than ever, if you are charged with felony aggravated assault in a domestic violence case, you need an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney on your side. The risk of going to prison or jail is very real. Hoping the victim does not show, believing that the truth will set you free, or counting on the charges being reduced without the help of a criminal law specialist is just foolhardy.

As a criminal law expert, Howard Snader has developed strategies to maximize your chances of avoiding incarceration, repairing your reputation, and hopefully preventing a felony record.

You can keep your freedom, but you need an attorney who will fight for you. The Snader Law Group wants to be your attorney. With the Snader Law Group, you are in good hands. The time to call is now. If you have questions, we will take the time to answer them and help you create a winning strategy. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

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