By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA - Montana lawmakers are considering a bill that would make strangulation of a family member or partner a felony.

“I think that in domestic violence, there’s always this issue of intimacy, and it’s very hard to prosecute these cases,” said Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, who is sponsoring Senate Bill 153. “Especially when there isn’t something really clear, like a weapon, involved.”

Margie McDonald
Margie McDonald

MacDonald said she thinks strangulation has been overlooked as a predictor of future violence. She also said she thinks it is most critical, in the domestic violence setting, to treat the crime as a felony.

“That is the place where it probably is most often been passed over and diminished in terms of its significance as an assault,” MacDonald said.

Strangulation is currently considered assault, which could be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the severity of the crime.

MacDonald said the law could be broadened later to include making the crime a felony in other situations, but since it came out of the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission (out of the Montana DOJ), family members and partners have been the focus.

SB 153 defines the crime as if a person purposefully or knowingly impedes the normal breathing or circulation of the blood by blocking airflow to the nose and mouth, or applying pressure on the throat or neck.

The bill also states someone convicted of this crime would be required to pay for and complete a counseling plan approved by the court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear SB 153 Thursday morning.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.