Attorney General Fox, State Senator MacDonald, Yellowstone Co. Attorney Twito Introduce Legislation to Make Strangulation a Felony Offense

HELENA – Attorney General Tim Fox, along with Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, and Yellowstone Co. Attorney Scott Twito, announced Thursday the introduction of a bill that would make the crime of strangulation of a partner or family member a felony offense in Montana.

SB 153, sponsored by Sen. Margie MacDonald, was drafted by the Montana Department of Justice in concert with the Yellowstone County Attorney’s office. The bill would establish in Montana law that a person commits the felony offense of strangulation of a partner or family member if the person purposely or knowingly impedes the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of a partner or family member by:

  • applying pressure on the throat or neck of the partner or family member; or
  • blocking air flow to the nose and mouth of the partner or family member.

Montana’s current law does not distinguish the offense of strangulation from other crimes of assault. To convict a person of felony assault by strangulation under current law, prosecutors must prove a victim suffered a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury. This is often very difficult to prove in the case of strangulation as injuries are often internal, and not always immediately apparent.

Last year, Attorney General Fox held a series of crime victim forums across the state to give victims an opportunity to speak about their experiences with the justice system, as well as their thoughts on how victims might be better served in the future. After hearing disturbing testimony from two victims in Missoula who were strangled by the same man, Attorney General Fox made it a priority for his office to work with county attorneys and legislators to make strangulation a felony offense in Montana.

“Non-lethal instances of strangulation are a red flag for identifying future lethal violence in an abusive relationship, and current law doesn’t adequately protect victims or hold offenders accountable for this particularly dangerous form of abuse,” said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. “I’m pleased that my office was able to work with the Yellowstone County Attorney’s office, and Senator MacDonald, to improve protections for victims in Montana through Senate Bill 153.”

“If someone is going to commit the crime of strangulation, it is more likely than not that it is their intent to cause serious injury,” said Senator Margie MacDonald, D-Billings. “Unfortunately, there is a hole in Montana’s current law that doesn’t provide victims of domestic abuse the protection they need when they find themselves in an abusive relationship. SB 153 is a much needed tool for prosecutors to use to address serial domestic violence in Montana.”

“The Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office supports Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Billings Senator Margie MacDonald,” said Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito. “This bill will address problems with the current aggravated assault law in prosecuting strangulation cases. Domestic violence involving strangulation poses significant risk to victims and this proposed bill will provide additional tools for prosecutors and law enforcement to protect victims of this serious, violent crime.  This office gives this bill its full support.”

Montana is one of a small minority of states across the country that doesn’t have a law specific to the crime of strangulation. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary committee with a hearing date tentatively set for next week.

Click here to view SB 153