Dan Caddell, investigator for Bee County District Attorney Martha Warner, said the change became effective on Sept. 1 of last year.
The change affects Title 5, Chapter 22 of the Penal Code and makes an offense that was once a Class A misdemeanor a third degree felony.
“I’m focused on that,” Caddell said. His name has been associated with those of Beeville Police Department officers and Bee County Sheriff’s Office deputies in many indictments this year.
“If they put their hands on your neck and squeeze any length of time, that’s strangulation,” Caddell said. The act of squeezing someone’s throat or neck will impede blood circulation or breath and that could have serious effects on the victim.
“Impeding could be two or three seconds,” the investigator said.
“In 10 seconds, you go unconscious,” Caddell stressed.
He said that until the new law was passed, prosecutors could only charge a defendant with assault with bodily injury. That is a Class A misdemeanor.
If convicted, a defendant can only be sentenced to a year in the county jail and fined $4,000.
Under the new law, the defendant can be charged with the third degree felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Before the change, the only other charge that could be filed against someone who strangles a family member was aggravated assault. That is a second degree felony, punishable by a 20-year prison term and a $10,000 fine.
Aggravated assault is much harder to prove in court, the investigator stated.
To be a felony, Caddell said the offense must be committed against a family member, someone who lives in the same household or someone with whom the defendant has a dating relationship.
Squeezing the neck of someone other than a family member is not a felony offense, Caddell said.
Warner reported that the new law helps law enforcement personnel get help for the victims.
“The whole idea is to get people to a crime victims coordinator fast,” Warner said. “It gets the victims to a safer and more secure environment.”
A lot of the offenders are young, Warner said, “young and stupid.” What they need is to get into a program for anger management so they will not offend again.
“I’m excited about it,” Warner said. She said her office has handled 150 similar cases since July. And now that the holidays are here, she fears the problem will get worse.
“’Tis the season,” Warner commented. She said she has been told by local law enforcement officers that the number of family violence incidents soars during the holidays.
Warner is also pleased with the way another change in the law is helping to stop repeat offenders.
The law, which also went into effect on Sept. 1 last year, allows prosecutors to file third degree felony charges against anyone who assaults a family member or someone with whom he is having a dating relationship more than once within a 12-month period.
The reason people have seen so many of both cases going to the grand jury this year is simple, Warner said. Blame that on Caddell. He was not kidding when he said he is “focused” on such cases.
In some instances, the investigator has been able to get to a family violence scene while the abuse is still underway.
“We want to move quickly,” Warner said. The whole purpose of the law is to stop the abuse and protect the victims.
Often, she said, young children are present when a father is beating on their mother.
“Imagine what that does to those kids,” Warner said.
The two new laws do not always put fathers in prison. Most of the time treatment is what they need.
But when the violence is repeated or when the injuries are severe, then the offender belongs behind bars and should be kept away from the family members, Warner said.
Sometimes it is the only way to stop the violence and keep someone from being seriously injured or killed.