Bill Montgomery

Maricopa County Attorney's Office Gets Award for New Approach in Strangulation Cases; Prosecutions Way Up

A new approach to evidence in domestic-violence strangulation cases has quadrupled prosecutions for the crimes and garnered an award for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Last year, County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office partnered with local law enforcement agencies and Scottsdale Healthcare to make sure victims were properly examined after an attack.

Montgomery announced today that his office had received the "great honor" of a 2013 Achievement Award by the National Association of Counties (NACo).

"Research shows that women who experience strangulation are up to seven times more likely to become victims of homicide," Montgomery said in news release about the award. "We believe this program can serve as a national model for addressing a serious crime perpetrated by abusers who have traditionally been very hard to prosecute."

A punch to the face may leave bruises and cuts to a victim's face as well as to the attacker's hand. Strangulation can be even more painful and terrifying than mere blows, bringing the victim near the point of death. But the clues of a strangulation attack may be subtle. Too often, the attackers were never brought to justice because of a lack evidence.

Under the program, first responders take victims of domestic violence to a hospital or advocacy center to be examined by a nurse. A specialized exam including high-definition photographic documentation and DNA collection is given -- enough evidence to proceed with a criminal case even if the victim doesn't want to testify.

Far more cases have been deemed prosecutable since a 2012 pilot program was conducted. At least 500 new cases of strangulation would likely be received by the county once the program went county-wide, the office stated last year.

Of all the cases reviewed under the program to date, 38 percent resulted in convictions and sentences ranging from three months in jail to prison terms of up to eight years, the office reports.

Because many women who are killed by their partners were strangled by them in previous domestic-violence attacks, it's likely that the program is also saving lives.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.