PHOENIX — Arizona can better protect women who find themselves in abusive relationships by applying domestic violence laws to dating couples, stiffening penalties for repeat offenders and making choking a felony, advocates told lawmakers Monday.
“There are significant gaps in the system when it comes to domestic violence,” said Kendra Leiby, a lobbyist for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “The cost of not having an effective system in place that protects victims and hold perpetrators accountable is way too high.”
While briefing the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leiby said her coalition counted 126 Arizonans who died last year in domestic violence-related murders and suicides.
Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, the committee’s chairman, has introduced three bills to try and cut down on the number of deaths.
SB 1068 would classify choking, which includes strangulation or suffocation, as aggravated assault, a Class Three felony. Under current law, choking can only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
Paton said many domestic abusers choke their victims because the punishment is lenient and strangulation or suffocation often doesn’t leave marks that would be evidence of assault.
Kathleen Mayer, an assistant Pima County attorney, said choking is one of the leading causes of domestic violence-related deaths in her area.
“That’s a huge red flag for future homicides,” she said. “Until we can afford ourselves of some felony intervention in that kind of conduct, we’re going to continue to see women die as a result of strangulation and suffocation.”
SB 1087 would allow prosecutors to file felony charges on a second domestic violence offense instead of a third, as the law currently provides.
Rebecca Baker, an assistant Maricopa County attorney, said her office was unable to pursue felony charges in 40 percent of domestic violence cases it handled last year because prosecutors couldn’t prove that defendants had two prior convictions. She said it is often difficult to document convictions in other states.
Paton said, “We want to stop the repeat offenses because we know they lead to murders and other heinous crimes.”
SB 1088 would expand domestic violence laws to cover romantic or sexual relationships in which the victim and abuser have never married, lived together or had a child together.
Victims of crimes classified as domestic violence can more easily obtain protective orders against their alleged abusers. Victims of dating violence have to show a series of events in order to obtain an injunction.
“I think that when these bills get heard there’s going to be a huge reaction from the community and it’s going to be positive,” Paton said. “I’m convinced of that.”
None of the measures has been heard because the Senate isn’t hearing bills while lawmakers work on the state budget.
Domestic violence bills
Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has introduced three bills aimed at protecting women from domestic violence:
• SB 1068 would classify choking as aggravated assault, a Class Three felony. Under current law, choking can only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
• SB 1087 would allow prosecutors to file felony charges on a second domestic violence offense instead of a third, as the current law provides.
• SB 1088 would expand domestic violence laws to cover romantic or sexual relationships where the victim and abuser have never married, lived together or had a child together. The change would make it easier for women with abusive boyfriends to obtain protective orders.