A coalition of lawmakers, attorneys and activists say a common method of assault - strangulation - often slips though the cracks and needs to be singled out in South Dakota law.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, will be championing a law adding strangulation to the five actions that qualify as aggravated assault, a felony.

Pennington County State's Attorney Glenn Brenner said it is difficult to prosecute strangulation as a felony and that defendants often end up getting convicted of simple assault, a misdemeanor.

"What it very clearly is, is an assault. It's easy to fit it into the misdemeanor (offense)," Brenner said. "But ... that misdemeanor doesn't have enough consequence to it. To bring it up to an aggravated assault, to bring it up to a felony, we really need to make sure we've got exact instruction."

In order for an assault to currently qualify as aggravated, the law says it has to manifest "extreme indifference to the value of human life," involve a "dangerous weapon" or result in "serious bodily injury."

The proposed law would add another category, saying an attack was aggravated assault if it "maliciously impedes the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another person by applying pressure on the throat or neck or by blocking the nose or mouth of another person."

Simple assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail and a $2,000 fine. If an individual has two prior simple assault convictions, any subsequent simple assault convictions are a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to two years in the state penitentiary and a $4,000 fine.

Aggravated assault is a Class 3 felony, with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

The focus of advocates for this new law is the use of strangulation in domestic violence cases. Dr. Anne Fisher, a physician at Rapid City Regional Hospital and a board member of Working Against Violence, Inc., cited statistics that as many as 68 percent of female domestic violence victims have experienced a strangulation assault in their life.

Also advocating for the law at a Thursday press conference was Jackie Gallas, who said she had survived strangulation.

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"Not enough women have the power to leave and not enough men are prosecuted enough to be able to let those women have the freedom to leave and not be so scared," said Gallas, who had tears in her eyes as she described her assault.

In addition to Tieszen, Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, and Sen. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, also support the legislation.

Past efforts to add new, specific offenses to the criminal code - such as Tieszen's effort to ban texting while driving - often run into criticism from lawmakers who say existing legislation can already cover the offense.

The legislative session begins Tuesday in Pierre.

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or david.montgomery@rapidcityjournal.com.


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