Guilty man sitting with criminal defense attorneys

How are domestic violence cases alleging choking defended?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Domestic violence cases – known as assault-family violence under Texas law – are one of the most commonly filed types of cases in Texas. A first-time arrest for domestic violence is typically filed as a Class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4000 fine. However, if there is an allegation of choking that can elevate a domestic violence case to a felony and make a first-time domestic violence arrest to a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If you have been charged with assault-family violence involving choking, the increased stakes mean that it is critical to hire an experienced domestic violence defense attorney right away. 

Under Texas Penal Code 22.01 assault of a family member (as defined by statute) is normally filed as a Class “A” misdemeanor. But where the “offense is committed by intentionally, knowingly or recklessly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of the blood the person by applying pressure to the person’s throat,” a domestic violence allegation can be prosecuted as a third-degree felony under Texas Penal Code 22.01(b)(2)(A). 

In general, the strategy for defending assault-family violence cases involving choking or strangulation is the same. First, a domestic violence attorney must obtain the evidence in order to be able to evaluate the case. In domestic violence cases, the evidence typically consists of police report, photographs, body cameras, 911 calls, medical records and witness statements. Once the evidence is received, a domestic violence defense attorney will want to interview any witnesses to the incident, including the alleged victim. It is critical for a domestic violence defense attorney to understand the motive for a false allegation or whether the case involves mutual combat or a self-defense claim.

In cases involving allegations of choking or strangulation, there are additional pieces of evidence to collect and analyze. The most important is known as the “strangulation supplement.” The strangulation supplement is a form that police officers fill out with details relating the alleged strangulation. For example, in the form, the alleged victim is asked to estimate how long the choking lasted, what the victim said while the choking was taking place, to describe the symptoms experienced during and after the choking and several other pieces of evidence. 

The strangulation supplement and medical records can be extremely useful pieces of evidence to prove that an allegation of domestic violence involving choking is false. This is because cases with choking involve predictable injuries that medical professionals would expect to see if what the alleged victim is saying is true. For example, if the alleged victim claims that she was strangled for 2 minutes, but there is not bruising or other physical symptoms, that is a strong indication that she is not being truthful. The reality is that when a person is choked for any significant amount of time, there are tell-tale symptoms that would manifest like bruising around the neck, petechiae (tiny spots of bruising, often around the eyes), loss of consciousness, along with other symptoms. At Ceja Law Firm, we frequently work with medical professionals in the Houston area to closely examine the medical records, strangulation supplement and all other evidence to challenge the accusation by showing that an allegation is inconsistent with the physical evidence. 

Although there is no data on this point that we are aware of, we believe that false accusations of choking are extremely common. One reason for this is that many alleged victims understand that a case alleging choking will result in a more serious case against a defendant than regular assault-family violence. If an alleged victim has a motive to lie (to gain an advantage in a divorce or custody dispute, for example), the alleged victim may think it is better to allege that a felony occurred rather than just a misdemeanor domestic violence case. Occasionally, police officers will also encourage (whether intentionally or not) alleged victims to make allegations of choking since they also are well aware that a choking allegation could lead to a felony arrest. 

If you have been accused of domestic violence involving choking or strangulation it is critical that you obey any bond conditions that the court may impose. The most important bond conditions involve not contacting the alleged victim or going near her home, school or place of employment. The importance of closely obeying bond conditions in a domestic violence case cannot be overstated. 

If you are accused of violating a bond condition in a domestic violence case, several bad things could happen. First, your bond could be revoked, which means that you would be put back into jail. If you are accused of violating a bond condition in a case involving family violence, a judge can actually hold you in jail without bond while the case is pending (this is one of the few situations that a judge can hold a defendant without bond under the Texas Constitution). Additionally, you can be charged with violation of a protective order, which is an independent legal charge in Texas. 

Properly defending a domestic violence case involving choking or strangulation can take several months and frequently over a year. But in many cases, a false allegation of strangulation is easier to expose due to the fact that the symptoms of the injuries can be easier to expose as false. However, it is critical that you consult with an attorney with experience in these types of cases in particular. An effective domestic violence attorney should be able to clearly communicate a plan to defend your case and obtain the best possible result. 

Ceja Law Firm defends domestic violence cases throughout the Greater Houston area including Pasadena, Conroe, Deer Park, Bellaire, Galveston, Richmond, Sugar Land, Baytown and more. If you have been charged with domestic violence involving choking or strangulation call Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation. 

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.