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Strangulation Program Honored with NACo Award

PHOENIX, AZ (June 13, 2013) – The National Association of Counties (NACo) has recognized Maricopa County with a 2013 Achievement Award in the category of Criminal Justice and Public Safety for a program that has led to dramatic improvements in the ability to prosecute non-fatal strangulation cases. Developed by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in partnership with local law enforcement agencies and Scottsdale Healthcare, the strangulation program uses advanced investigatory techniques to obtain the critical evidence needed to support criminal charges against suspects who in the past would likely have been released. Since launching the program, the County Attorney’s Office has more than quadrupled the prosecution rate of cases involving an allegation of strangulation.

“The NACo award is a great honor that underscores the successful approach to prosecuting strangulation cases that we have developed with Scottsdale Healthcare and our law enforcement partners,” remarked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Research shows that women who experience strangulation are up to seven times more likely to become victims of homicide. 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,” he added.

Domestic violence incidents account for the single largest category of service calls to police agencies. In Maricopa County last year, more than 1,500 domestic violence calls for police service involved allegations of strangulation.

Up to half of all female victims of domestic violence are strangled at least once in their lifetime, and one quarter of all females murdered by men are killed by strangulation or smothering. Yet allegations of strangulation have traditionally been difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, due to a lack of visible injuries on the victim or other corroborating evidence.

To address these challenges, the County Attorney’s Office partnered with Scottsdale Healthcare and the Glendale and Chandler Police departments to launch the Domestic Violence Strangulation Project in December, 2011. Under the multi-disciplinary approach that was developed through the partnership, police and first responders transport domestic violence victims to hospitals and family advocacy centers throughout Maricopa County where Forensic Nurse Examiners from Scottsdale Healthcare perform specialized medical-forensic examinations and collect evidence including advanced photographic documentation, DNA and other physical evidence. Nurse Examiners also provide expert witness testimony in court, allowing cases to proceed even if the victim is unwilling or unable to testify. An extensive training effort has been implemented to teach law enforcement officers in other agencies how to recognize and respond to strangulation incidents.

A review of cases involving allegations of strangulation submitted to the County Attorney’s Office over a six month period in 2011 revealed that 90% were turned down for prosecution due to lack of corroboration. By contrast, during the initial three month pilot phase of the strangulation program, more than 60% of submittals were filed for prosecution using written reports, photographs and other evidence collected by Scottsdale Healthcare’s Forensic Nurse Examiners. Of all the cases reviewed since the program was launched to date, more than 38% have resulted in sentences ranging from three months in jail to prison terms of up to eight years.

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