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What are the Non-fatal Strangulation Sentencing Guidelines in the UK?

Stuart Miller Solicitors | Criminal Defence Solicitors

Offences against the person are a very broad area of English law, and if you are charged with any of these offences the consequences for your personal and professional life can be severe, with potential imprisonment being only one part of the difficulty you might face. Non-fatal strangulation is an especially troubling offence, not least because it occurs so much in the context of domestic abuse. If you or someone you care about is facing such a charge, getting the right legal help as early as possible can make all the difference. This blog post will explore the nature of this offence, along with the key requirements the prosecution must prove to secure a conviction and information about sentencing, defences, and where to get more help.

What is the offence of non-fatal strangulation?

Non-fatal strangulation generally involves the application of pressure to the throat, neck, or other areas that could impede breathing or blood circulation. The act is considered non-fatal because it stops short of causing death, but it can still lead to severe harm, including unconsciousness or other physical injuries.

The offence is governed by Section 70 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which came about – in part – to help tackle the high rate of offences committed against women and girls by men. The Act itself, however, does not have any gender limitations, so anyone may be charged with this offence for crimes committed against anyone else.

The wording of the offence in the Act is simple: a person commits the offence of non-fatal strangulation if they ‘intentionally strangle another person’. The Act does not define ‘strangles’ but the Sentencing Council offers this clarification of the word’s ordinary meaning:

obstruction or compression of blood vessels and/or airways by external pressure to the neck impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood.

What are some examples of non-fatal strangulation?

The legislation does not specify any particular means of strangulation, so it could come about through various means, including:

  • Holding a rope tight on someone’s neck
  • Grabbing someone’s throat
  • Applying pressure to someone’s neck and face with a pillow
  • Pushing a bar or other object into someone’s throat
  • Keeping someone in a headlock
  • Kneeling or standing on someone’s neck
  • Hanging a person
  • Non-fatal strangulation in the context of domestic violence

In domestic violence cases, non-fatal strangulation is a particularly concerning and dangerous form of abuse. It can result in severe physical and psychological harm to the victim, as well as long-term health consequences. The intent behind such an act is often to assert power and control over the victim, instilling fear and enforcing dominance within the relationship.

Domestic violence situations involving non-fatal strangulation can be highly traumatic for the victim, leading to feelings of helplessness, fear, and significant psychological trauma. The physical consequences can range from immediate injuries like bruising, swelling, and difficulty breathing, to more severe outcomes such as internal injuries, brain damage, or even death in some cases.

Because of this, the law is particularly sensitive to potential offences of non-fatal strangulation that happen in the domestic context. Where the offence occurs as part of a longer campaign of domestic abuse on the part of the offender, or in the presence of children, the sentence given will be harsher, as explored below.

What is the sentence for non-fatal strangulation?

If someone is found guilty of this offence, they can face different penalties depending on how severe the case is. The judge will ultimately decide what the sentence is based on their understanding of the facts proven in court.

In less serious cases, the guilty individual could be sent to prison for up to 12 months, or they might have to pay a fine, or possibly both. In more serious cases, they could be sentenced to prison for up to 5 years, or they could be required to pay a fine, or again, possibly both.

As with any other sentence, aggravating and mitigating factors are taken into account during the sentencing phase after someone is found guilty of a crime. These factors can influence the length of the sentence (or severity of any other punishment) that is imposed.

Aggravating factors are circumstances or elements that make the offence more serious or deserving of a harsher punishment. They can include things like:

  • If the person has a history of previous offences
  • If the offence involved violence, physical harm to victims, or posed a significant threat to public safety
  • If the offence was planned in advance or involved a deliberate intent to commit a crime
  • If the offence involved a large amount of money, valuable property, or caused substantial financial or emotional harm to the victims
  • If the offender exploited a position of trust or authority to commit the crime, such as a public official or caregiver
  • Mitigating factors, on the other hand, are circumstances or elements that can lessen the culpability of the offender or reduce the severity of the punishment. Some examples of mitigating factors include:
  • If the person has no prior convictions or has a minimal criminal record
  • If the offender shows genuine remorse for their actions or cooperates with authorities during the investigation or trial
  • If the offender has a diagnosed mental illness that played a role in the commission of the crime or if they were acting under duress or extreme pressure
  • Voluntary disclosure: If the offender voluntarily discloses their involvement in the crime or provides information that helps in the investigation or prosecution of other offences
  • Low level of participation: If the offender had a minor role or was coerced into committing the offence

These factors are evaluated by the judge during the sentencing phase to determine an appropriate punishment. Aggravating factors may lead to a more severe sentence, while mitigating factors may result in a less severe sentence.

If it is proven that the offence was committed as an act of hostility for racial or religious reasons, the sentence is more severe, potentially leading to up to 7 years’ imprisonment.

Are there any defences to non-fatal strangulation?

The legislation provides one special defence to non-fatal strangulation, and that is consent. In other words, if the person who was strangled was not actually a victim but consented to the act (as part of a sexual fantasy, for example), then the person doing the strangling may have a defence.

This defence does not apply if the person being strangled suffers serious harm as a result of the strangulation or other act, and the person doing the strangling intended to cause B serious harm, or was reckless as to whether B would suffer serious harm.

Otherwise, there are some general defences to non-fatal strangulation that may apply. These include:

  • Self-defence, where the defendant acted to protect themselves or others from imminent harm.
  • Duress, where the defendant was compelled to commit the crime due to a threat of serious harm or death.
  • Necessity, where committing the crime was to prevent a greater harm or danger.

Mistake of fact, where the defendant unintentionally committed the crime due to a genuine belief in certain facts that, if true, would make the action lawful.

Insanity, where the defendant had a mental condition that affected their ability to understand the nature of the act or distinguish right from wrong.

Intoxication, where the defendant was involuntarily intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that it affected their ability to form criminal intent.

Note that all defences rely very heavily on evidence and the articulation of the defence case by an experienced solicitor or barrister. This is just one of the reasons why it is so imperative to secure expert legal advice as soon as possible if you are facing or have been charged with a non-fatal strangulation offence.

Where to get more help

No matter what you are accused of, and no matter your innocence or guilt, you are entitled to expert legal representation as you proceed through the charging and potential trial process. With a crime so intricately connected to the highly sensitive topic of domestic abuse, it is best to use a criminal defence solicitor with extensive experience handling similar cases. This ensures not only that you work with a solicitor who understands the law around the offence, but also one who understands the difficult situation any charges or trials will pose for your personal and professional life. For a free and non-judgemental conversation about next steps and the role a solicitor can play, get in touch with the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors today.

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