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Mayor Bowser Announces Two Measures to Support Victims of Domestic Violence

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

(Washington, DC) – As part of her ongoing commitment to the victims and survivors of domestic violence, Mayor Muriel Bowser has submitted two legislative proposals, the Strangulation Prohibition Amendment Act of 2019 and the Victims’ Protection Amendment Act of 2020, to the Council of the District of Columbia to strengthen the District’s responses to domestic violence.

“We owe it to every victim and survivor of domestic violence to strengthen our laws to enhance their safety and protection,” said Mayor Bowser. “By enacting this legislation, the District will be better able to hold offenders accountable and provide a sense of security for those who need these protections most. I urge the Council to take up these measures so that together we can send a clear message to victims and survivors that they have our support.”

The Strangulation Prohibition Amendment Act of 2019 amends Title 22 of the District of Columbia Official Code to create a felony offense for the strangulation of another person and adds strangulation to the definition of a crime of violence. It also establishes a sentencing enhancement of up to 1.5 times the maximum term of imprisonment and fine upon conviction if: the victim sustained serious bodily injury at the time of the offense, or the defendant was subject to supervised release at the time of the offense or had been convicted of an intrafamily offense within the past five years.

“DCCADV applauds the introduction the Strangulation Prohibition Amendment Act and the Victims’ Protection Amendment Act of 2020,” said Karma Cottman, Executive Director, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “These two pieces of legislation highlight issues that are critical to survivors of domestic violence as they are indicators of increased lethality. In taking this step, Mayor Bowser sends a clear message that the District will stand with survivors and hold offenders accountable.”

District law currently treats strangulation as a misdemeanor simple assault, unless the attack caused serious bodily injury or an object was used to strangle the victim. The District is an outlier in not specifically treating strangulation as a felony; 45 states have passed some form of a felony strangulation law. Research shows that non-fatal strangulation is an important risk factor for the murder of women and is often a precursor for more serious violence. Strangulation is a key lethality factor in intimate partner violence cases.

“I am pleased to support the Mayor’s introduction of these two important bills,” said Jessie Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting intimate partner violence and to holding offenders accountable. Studies indicate that in the intimate partner context, the odds of becoming a victim of a completed homicide or the survivor of an attempted homicide increase seven- to eight-fold where the victim or survivor previously has been strangled by a partner. The creation of a felony offense for strangulation recognizes the unique dangers and increased lethality posed by strangulation. The creation of an offense for violating a post-conviction ‘stay away’ or ‘no contact order’ addresses a gap in current law that currently poses a danger to public safety. These bills would enable our Office to prosecute these offenses in a manner proportional to the conduct.”

The Victims’ Protection Amendment Act of 2020, amends Title 23 of the District of Columbia Official Code to create a criminal offense for a person who is on a post-conviction, supervised release and violates a stay-away order or a no-contact order issued as a condition of their release. This legislation closes a loophole in current law, which contains no meaningful mechanism for enforcing violations of a condition of post-disposition release.

Under District law, contempt sanctions may be imposed if a person “intentionally violate[s] a condition of his release,” including a violation of a stay away order. However, this penalty only applies to individuals on pre-trial or pre-sentence release. Currently, individuals who violate a condition of their release, including stay away provisions, while they are on probation, supervised release, or parole are not subject to contempt liability. This legislation would bring the violations of post-conviction stay-away or no-contact orders in line with pre-trial violations of the same.

The bill is narrowly tailored to address only those violations that impact the safety of individuals and their community. It does not affect non-emergency situations involving a violation other than a stay away violation.

In the District, victims of domestic violence and other crimes are encouraged to contact the DC Victim Hotline at 844-4HELPDC, or dcvictim.org.