Charged With Non-fatal Strangulation: What To Do Next

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Dawn McKnight


In Brief

If you face allegations of strangulation, understand the potential consequences, including imprisonment for serious offences. Seek expert legal counsel immediately for guidance and representation.

People can commit all kinds of violent behaviour (physical and non-physical), especially when tempers flare. Acts like strangulation are particularly common in domestic violence situations, when conflict can rapidly escalate.

But when strangulation doesn’t result in death, what does the law say? Is non-fatal strangulation a crime?

What is non-fatal strangulation according to UK law?

A new non-fatal strangulation offence came into law in 2022. It can apply to many situations, but it’s expected that domestic violence situations will account for most convictions.

So what is the new strangulation law UK residents should be aware of?

The law states that the accused must have intentionally strangled the victim or committed an act that affected their ability to breathe. This involves obstructing or compressing airways or blood vessels by placing external pressure on the neck. This could be done by:

  • Exerting pressure with hands around the victim’s neck
  • Keeping someone in a chokehold
  • Using a foot or knee to put pressure on the neck 
  • Tightening a ligature around the neck
  • Hanging someone

This law only applies if the strangulation doesn’t cause death. Also, it doesn’t require there to be an intention to kill or cause injury, or even any physical evidence of injury.

What is non-fatal suffocation?

Unlike strangulation, suffocation is depriving someone of air and preventing them from breathing, without necessarily placing pressure on their neck. Methods of suffocation might include:

  • Placing a hand or object over the mouth and nose
  • Compressing the chest
  • Applying force in another way to restrict breathing

Another important difference from non-fatal strangulation is that non-fatal suffocation can be committed recklessly, without meaning to do so. 

How are non-fatal strangulation accusations proved?

With a strangulation charge, UK law states that it must be an intentional act. The accused must have intended to strangle the victim, although prosecutors don’t need to prove that the accused meant to cause harm or death.

As with any crime, testimony provided by the victim will form a key part of the prosecution’s case. Any witness testimony will also be integral.

Due to the particular nature of the crime, the victim will be asked if they feel or felt any effects like these:

  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, chest/throat pain or hyperventilation
  • Pain when swallowing or moving their neck
  • An inability to speak properly
  • Damage to the larynx, mouth, tongue or teeth
  • Dizziness, headaches or nausea
  • Sight or hearing loss during the incident
  • Subsequent problems with vision or hearing
  • Memory loss, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Records of any medical attention provided to the victim will be examined, first responders might be asked to give evidence and any 999 calls made will be reviewed. In addition, medical testing might be carried out to identify damage caused, such as the effects of oxygen loss on the brain.

Of course, if there is any CCTV footage or photos of the crime, that is likely to form an important part of the prosecution’s evidence. 

With suffocation, an offence of battery must also be proven. That is the intentional or reckless application of unlawful force to another person.

What sentence can you face when charged with strangulation?

As an either way offence, non-fatal strangulation can be tried in a magistrates’ court or Crown Court, depending upon the particular circumstances. 

If you’re tried in a magistrates’ court, you might be fined, imprisoned or face both penalties. The maximum punishment you can face in the magistrates court is 6 months in prison.

If, on the other hand, your case goes to Crown Court as an indictable offence, you maximum offence is five years in prison. Again, the penalty can include a prison sentence, a fine or both.

Since this is a relatively new offence, there are not yet any specific Sentencing Council Guidelines to help courts reach a sentencing decision. It is also not uncommon that in a case involving non-fatal strangulation that other offences may also be charged, these can be sentenced consecutively or concurrently depending on the circumstances.

What defence is there against non-fatal strangulation charges?

Wondering how to beat a strangulation accusation?

Well, one defence against the offence is that the victim consented to strangulation, as part of a sexual act or for some other reason. However, this defence does not apply if serious harm (such as wounding, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm) is caused. Plus, it doesn’t apply if you intended to cause such harm or you were reckless about the possibility of causing such harm.

What to do if you’re facing a strangulation charge

A charge for strangulation can leave you feeling panicked and fearing for your future. But with specialist domestic abuse solicitors like us on your side, you’ll have the best possible chance of being acquitted and found not guilty of the crime.

We’ve been independently recognised as a leading criminal defence law firm, by both The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners. The domestic abuse solicitors at Lawtons have the expertise and experience necessary to defend strangulation charges.

Contact us now if you’ve been accused of a crime, or charged with one. Don’t put your future at risk.

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