Touched a Neck in a Fight? First Degree Assault Charges for YouCan you be charged with a first-degree felony in Maryland just for placing your arm around the neck of a spouse, date, relative, friend, or anyone? The answer is maybe. If the placement is considered “pressure” and you intended to place your arm where you did, and the placement impedes the normal breathing or blood circulation of that person, you could be looking at up to 25 years in prison.

Yay! The Nationals just won the pennant! You hug the person next to you a little too tightly. That could be considered strangulation. Technically, you could be charged with assault in the first degree. You playfully pretend to choke someone. You didn’t intend the other person harm but you did intend to place your hand on their neck. Under Maryland law, that might be justification for an assault in the first-degree charge.

What is Maryland’s strangulation law?

Maryland, in 2020, updated their definition of first-degree assault charges to include strangulation. While the intent was to protect mostly women from domestic violence, the wording of the new statute is far from precise. In fact, it’s so broad that almost any contact with someone’s throat or neck could result in a felony first-degree assault charge.

The law specifically states:

  • “Strangling means impeding the normal breathing or blood circulation of another person by applying pressure to the other person’s throat or neck.”
  • A person may not commit an assault with a firearm, including certain specific acts.
  • “A person may not commit an assault by intentionally strangling another.”

Violations of this new law are a felony of assault in the first degree. If convicted, a defendant could be imprisoned for up to 25 years. A conviction will also mean a large fine. Convicted individuals will also find it difficult to find employment or a place to live because employers and apartments will see felony convictions on their records when they run background checks.

This statute is too broad and ambiguous

The problem with this law is that there is no definition of pressure. Does pressure include a touch, an incidental brush, or any other contact? Does the act require that the breathing or circulation be affected for a split second, two seconds, or some other length of time? An adult normally takes 12-20 breaths per minute. Children breathe even faster. If the other prison loses just one breath, could that lead to a felony assault charge?

Is the word of the alleged victim enough? Shouldn’t there be some requirement that a physician or health provider has some evidence that enough “pressure” was used to leave a mark or to cause a respiratory or circulatory disorder? Shouldn’t there be photographs that can show redness, bruises, scratches, or some indication of an assault – instead of just taking the victim’s word that the assault happened?

Other offenses require either intentionally causing or attempting to cause serious physical injury to another or the use of a firearm. Shouldn’t the strangulation offense be comparable, that there is some evidence of a “serious physical injury?”

Maryland defines, in the assault section of the criminal code, “serious bodily injury” as physical injury that:

  • Creates a substantial risk of death; or
  • Causes permanent or protracted serious:
    • Disfigurement;
    • Loss of the function of any bodily member or organ; or
    • Impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.

Shouldn’t the pressure involved in strangulation cause similar dangers and health disorders? If the placement of hands around someone’s throat doesn’t create a substantial risk of death or permanent or serious protracted consequences, should the strangulation charge be dismissed?

The firearms that can result in a first-degree assault charge include a handgun, antique firearm, rifle, shotgun, short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, an assault pistol, a machine gun, and a regulated firearm (as further defined by the various statutes). Shouldn’t strangulation be comparable to the consequences of using those weapons?

There must be some balance between protecting the rights of victims from assaults, especially from domestic violence, and protecting the rights of defendants.

How we fight for defendants charged with first-degree assaults

Just the possibility of facing up to 25 years in prison is enough to make contacting an experienced Annapolis criminal defense lawyer a priority. The consequences of any felony, including job and living difficulties, only adds to that need.

If you are charged with first-degree assault based on strangulation, we work to show that there were no or limited medical consequences. We challenge the validity of the law. We fight to show that the specific terms of the statute, even read broadly, do not apply. We may assert that you were acting in self-defense and that any pressure was necessary to prevent harm to yourself. The victim’s claims may be a fabrication to obtain a better result in a divorce or just to get even with a defendant for some perceived wrong.

While some domestic violence cases do involve spouses and partners who simply are a danger to others, many cases are better resolved through family law counseling, anger management, and other non-criminal methods. We also work to obtain plea negotiations that focus on saving relationships instead of destroying them.

At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, our Annapolis and Ellicott City first-degree assault lawyer has helped numerous criminal defendants obtain dismissals, acquittals, and plea reductions. I assert every possible factual and legal defense, including whether a statute is unconstitutional or should be against policy because it is too broad or ambiguous. I’m skilled at cross-examining complainants and the police about what actually happened. To speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, please call me now or complete my contact form. I do make arrangements to meet with clients who are in custody.

And remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.