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STRANGULATION OR SUFFOCATION: M.G.L. CHAPTER 265 §15D

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 15D states:

“Whoever strangles or suffocates another person shall be punished by imprisonment in state prison for not more than 5 years or in the house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Strangulation

Under M.G.L. c. 265 §15D, strangulation is defined as the intentional interference of the normal breathing or circulation of blood by applying substantial pressure on the throat or neck of another.

Suffocation

M.G.L. c. 265 §15D defines suffocation as the intentional interference of the normal breathing or circulation of blood by blocking the nose or mouth of another.

Elements of Strangulation & Suffocation

In order to prove a defendant is guilty of strangulation, the Commonwealth must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. The defendant applied substantial pressure on the throat or neck of the alleged victim;
2. The defendant interfered with the normal breathing or circulation of blood of the alleged victim without having any right or excuse for doing so; and
     3. The defendant did so intentionally.

To prove a defendant is guilty of suffocation, the Commonwealth must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. The defendant blocked the nose or mouth of the alleged victim;
2. The defendant interfered with the normal breathing or circulation of blood of the alleged victim without having any right or excuse for doing so; and
     3. The defendant did so intentionally.

If the prosecution fails to prove any of the three elements beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant must be found Not Guilty of the respective charge.

Aggravated Strangulation and Suffocation

Strangulation and suffocation have aggravated versions of each offense that carry increased penalties. The maximum penalty for aggravated strangulation and aggravated suffocation is 10 years in state prison or 2 ½ years in the house of correction, and a fine of not more than $10,000.

What are the aggravating factors?

Strangulation or suffocation may be aggravated by:

1. Causing serious bodily injury;
2. Knowing or having reason to know that the victim is pregnant;
3. Knowing that there is an Abuse Prevention Order or Restraining Order (209A Order) against the defendant; or
     4. Having a prior conviction for strangulation or suffocation.

Serious Bodily Injury: bodily injury that results in permanent disfigurement, loss or impairment of a bodily function, limb, or organ or creates a substantial risk of death. G.L c. 265 s. 15D(a).

Certified Batterer’s Intervention Program

Any sentence or Continuation Without a Finding (CWOF) for Strangulation or Suffocation must include a condition requiring the defendant to complete a certified batterer’s intervention program unless “the court issues specific written findings describing the reasons that batterer’s intervention should not be ordered or unless the batterer’s intervention program determines that the defendant is not suitable for intervention.” G.L. c. 265 s. 15D(d).

Potential Defenses to Charges of Strangulation or Suffocation

There are many available defenses to charges of strangulation or suffocation. Depending on the evidence and circumstances surrounding the allegations, below are some potential defenses to charges of strangulation and/or suffocation.

False Allegations: In cases where the alleged victim may have a motive to lie or has a reputation of being untruthful, denying the allegations altogether may be an effective defense. In cases where there is physical evidence of injuries this is unlikely to be an effective defense.

Self-Defense: This may be an effective defense when the defendant has visible injuries, or the defendant is much smaller in physical stature compared to the alleged victim.

Defense of Another: In some cases, a defendant may be able to argue that he or she was defending another individual who was being physically assaulted or attacked.

Consent: While this defense is less common, it could be used in cases involving two individuals involved in a romantic relationship with a history of consensually engaging in this type of behavior.

In certain cases, a defendant may be able to argue there is no evidence or a lack of evidence proving the victim’s breathing or circulation of blood was interfered with. If the prosecution fails to prove the victim’s breathing or circulation of blood was interfered with, the defendant must be found Not Guilty of Strangulation and/or Suffocation. However, this defense may not be effective against other related charges such as Assault & Battery or Assault & Battery on a Family or Household Member where the prosecution is not required to prove the victim’s breathing or circulation of blood was interfered with.

In cases where the evidence is overwhelming or the defendant does not want to proceed with a trial, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution that does not include jail or prison time and may involve amending and/or dismissing certain charges.

Related Crimes

Other criminal offenses that may be charged in addition to Strangulation or Suffocation, include the following:

  • Assault & Battery, in violation of M.G.L. c. 265 s. 13A
  • Assault & Battery on Family / Household Member, in violation of M.G.L. c. 265 s. 13M
  • Assault & Battery Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, in violation of M.G.L. c. 265 s. 13A(b)(i)
  • Attempted Murder, in violation of M.G.L. c. 265 s. 16

Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney (508) 226-4500 

If you or someone you know has been charged with Strangulation or Suffocation in Massachusetts, contact Riccio Law to schedule a free consultation. Strangulation and Suffocation are both felonies and a conviction for either offense may result in serious penalties. Attorney Anthony R. Riccio has extensive experience representing individuals against Strangulation or Suffocation charges and related crimes involving allegations of violence or abuse. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Riccio has the ability to analyze a criminal case from both sides and anticipate how the government will present their case at trial.

With offices in Quincy and Attleboro, Attorney Riccio regularly appears in courts throughout Boston, Southeastern Massachusetts, and the Cape & Islands. If you would like to schedule a free consultation, call (508) 226-4500 or complete the online contact form. Attorney Riccio is available to meet at both offices by appointment, including on evenings and weekends.