Intimate Partner Strangulation Now a Felony in Texas

On September 1, 2009, two measures went into effect that increase the potential penalties and fines against those convicted of committing certain domestic violence offenses in Texas. In passing these new laws, the Texas legislature sent a strong message that the state takes domestic violence charges seriously and those charged with a domestic violence act should not expect the charges to simply disappear.

Intimate Partner Strangulation

House Bill 2066 made intimate partner strangulation and suffocation a third-degree felony for a first offense and second-degree felony for a second offense. Previously, the act was charged as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a fine of $4000 and/or a maximum of one year in jail. Now, anyone convicted of intimate partner strangulation against a family member, household member or someone he or she has had a dating relationship with faces between 2 to ten years in prison for the first offense and up to a $10,000 fine. Those convicted of a second offense against a family member may be sentenced to between 2 and twenty years in prison. Second or subsequent offenders also face a fine of up to $10,000.

Under the Texas Penal Code, intimate partner strangulation and suffocation is defined as “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat or neck or by blocking the person’s nose or mouth” (VTCA Penal Code 22.01(b)(2)(B)).

In increasing the charge to a felony offense, the legislature cited the seriousness of the act and the need to create a stronger legal deterrent for those who may be inclined to commit the crime. The legislature also discussed studies that show that strangulation against loved ones is a strong indicator of further acts of violence and that those who have been strangled before have a 9 times greater chance of eventually being killed by the offender. Texas is the 11th state to pass a specific strangulation law.

Convicted Family Violence Offender Fee

The second change made by the legislature was to increase some of the fees that must be paid by those convicted of family violence crimes. In Senate Bill 82, the legislature made it mandatory for anyone who receives community supervision after being convicted of a family violence offense to pay a $100 fee to a local family violence center. The center can be a residential or non-residential facility, but must receive state or federal funding and be located in the same county as the court that sentenced the offender.

Previously, a judge could decide whether or not to order an offender to pay up to $100 to a family violence shelter.

Senate Bill 82 also changed the amount of other fees that must be paid by certain criminal defendants, including the cost to make copies of driving records, pretrial intervention programs, teen court programs and supervision fees.

The legislature changed the fees to compensate for cuts in state and federal funding, particularly to women’s shelters and other domestic violence victim resources. The legislature cited the state’s need for these types of programs because of the high number of domestic violence cases reported in Texas each year. For example, in 2006 there were over 186,000 family violence incidents reported in the state. Texas also ranks second nationally in the number of calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Those who are convicted of domestic violence acts in Texas face serious consequences. The state imposes a “family violence enhancement” for crimes that are committed against a family member, someone living in the same household or someone you have or have had a dating relationship with. This enhancement serves to increase the possible range of penalties that may be imposed against you if you are convicted of the charges. For example, simple assault against a stranger generally is charged as a Class A misdemeanor and may result in little to no jail time. But if the assault involved a family member, then it may be charged as a more serious third degree felony offense, which carries a minimum mandatory of 2 years in jail.

If you have been charged with intimate partner strangulation or another domestic violence crime, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.