PHOENIX, AZ (October 10, 2012) – Maricopa County prosecutors continue to see improvements in their ability to prosecute non-fatal strangulation cases, thanks to new investigatory techniques developed in partnership with local law enforcement agencies and Scottsdale Healthcare. Armed with advanced examination tools, forensic nurses from Scottsdale Healthcare are able to provide prosecutors with the critical evidence they need to file criminal charges against suspects who in the past would likely have been released, often to re-abuse their victims. Since launching a pilot program using these advancements in December 2011, County prosecutors have more than quadrupled their filing rates on domestic violence cases involving allegations of strangulation.
“It is fitting that during Domestic Violence Awareness month we can highlight this tremendous breakthrough in our ability to hold abusers accountable and break a cycle of domestic violence that all too often ends with the murder of a victim,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “I commend our law enforcement partners and Scottsdale Healthcare for their commitment to a program that has clearly improved the safety of our communities and which can serve as a national model,” he added.
Domestic violence incidents account for the single largest category of service calls to police agencies. Up to half of all female victims of domestic violence experience strangulation 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.
As a result of the successful pilot project in Maricopa County, law enforcement officers are receiving training on how to recognize and respond to domestic violence incidents involving strangulation. Police and first responders now transport domestic violence victims to hospitals and family advocacy centers where Forensic Nurse Examiners from Scottsdale Healthcare conduct a specialized medical-forensic examination and collect advanced photographic documentation, DNA and other physical evidence. Nurse Examiners also provide expert witness testimony in court, allowing cases to proceed in instances where a victim is unwilling or unable to testify.
A survey of cases involving allegations of strangulation submitted to the County Attorney’s Office over a six month period in 2011 revealed that roughly 90% were not prosecuted due to a lack of corroborating evidence. Since the implementation of the new investigatory approach, charges have been filed in 60% of the 148 cases submitted for review. The vast majority of defendants in these cases have pled guilty and received sentences ranging from probation to up to seven years in prison. None of the cases has gone to trial.