Assistant Putnam County Prosecutor Todd Schroeder
Assistant Putnam County Prosecutor Todd Schroeder
OTTAWA — Todd Schroeder knows the difficulties of prosecuting a strangulation accusation in Ohio. As the assistant prosecuting attorney for Putnam County, he is in charge of all of the county’s adult misdemeanor and felony prosecutions.

Schroeder testified Dec. 1 before the Ohio House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in favor of House Bill 362, legislation that would make strangulations its own crime, a felony of the third degree.

“We know that strangulation can result in serious harm with very little effort by the abuser,” Schroeder said. “However, strangulation is different and does not fit neatly into any other crime. You can strangle someone to death, or nearly to death, with no visible injury.”

Schroeder said the two main charges now available to Ohio prosecutors in a strangulation event are domestic violence, a misdemeanor of the first degree or, rarely, felonious assault, a felony of the second degree. In strangulation cases, felony charges are rare as they require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender caused serious physical harm.

Schroeder said the focus of both charges is the element of physical harm which often risks acquittal or dismissal due to finding no serious physical harm elements.

Strangulation violence is a felony crime in 38 states. Schroeder said that while the felonious assault statue in Ohio can provide a basis to prosecute strangulation as a felony, it carries with it numerous obstacles and hurdles to achieve a conviction.

Statistics show that victims of a prior strangulation event are seven times more likely to become a homicide victim. During his testimony Schroeder described how easily strangulation can lead to death.

“Alarmingly, unconsciousness can occur within 10 seconds if 4.4 pounds of pressure is applied to jugular veins or within 10 seconds if 11 pounds of pressure is applied to carotid arteries,” Schroeder said. “To put that into perspective, it takes 5.5 pounds of pressure to pull a lock trigger and 22 pounds of pressure to open a can of pop.”

Schroeder said their have been suspected strangulation cases in Putnam County. ‘They are mainly accused of domestic violence,” he said, “because so often there is either no visible injury or injuries too minor to document and most of the time there were no witnesses present.”

Schroeder said they did prosecute and convict one strangulation case, on a felony charge, but this was only after the victim was hospitalized due to internal injuries from the strangulation.

Schroeder was asked to testify in Columbus as a member of the Ohio Criminal Justice Services Advisory Council, on which he serves.

“As part of that council’s Policy and Legislative subcommittee, I have been a proponent of a new strangulation law for Ohio and also further reviewing and recommending changes to various drafts of strangulation legislation.” Schroeder said.

He recently provided CPT hour training to Putnam County law enforcement on the topic of strangulation.

“When strangulation laws are passed, it sends a strong message to the professionals handling such incidents that strangulation cases should be treated as serious cases,” Schroeder said. He also said effective intervention in non-homicide strangulation cases will ‘increase victim safely and hold offenders accountable for the crimes they commit and prevent future homicides.’

Under the proposed new bill strangulation would be considered a third-degree felony. It would prohibit a person “from knowingly impeding the normal breathing or circulation of another by strangulation.”

During questioning following Schroeder’s testimony, he addressed concerns that some people would be exposed to a felony crime under circumstances not intended under the statue and that without requiring physical evidence of injuries the court might find several people being exposed to criminal liability on a victim’s allegation along.

Schroeder said responded that the statue states the offender must “knowingly” impede oxygen//blood and that the required criminal intent is not likely to be met under the hypothetical presented of one friend putting another friend in a headlock. Schroeder also said the wording could be changed to “purposefully” likely eliminating horseplay-like patterns from being exposed to criminal charges.

Addressing the possible lack of physical evidence with cases proceeding on victim testimonial evidence alone, Schroeder said this is no different than any other crime. He spoke about sexual assault cases that proceed on the statement of the victim along and this possibly is true for most offenses. He also said even without physical evidence of injury there may still be testimony by first responders who could speak to the emotional state of the victim.

Schroeder said there will be more hearings before this bill is considered for approval. “It could be 2016 or later before it is voted on,” he said.