Investigating Domestic Violence Strangulation: How Police Can Document It

Strangulation cases are most frequently seen in cases of domestic violence. In the majority of domestic violence cases, there are few, if any, independent witnesses, and often the victim will recant her story. So, right off the bat, a police officer has the deck stacked against him in a successful prosecution of this high lethality battery. However, with the proper documentation by the investigating police officers, strangulation cases can be successfully prosecuted.

Document the physical evidence on scene. Make sure that you write a complete, detailed description of the scene in your narrative. Victims who are being strangled are fighting for their lives. Fights tend to make messes. Document broken glasses, chairs, disheveled bedding, holes in the drywall, lamps that are tipped over, etc.

Document the victim’s injuries. Write down all of your observations of the victim. You should obviously include things such as red marks and scratches on the neck. You should also include victim behaviors that are consistent with strangulation such as difficulty swallowing and a raspy voice.

Photograph everything. Quality photos trump most of the arguments the defense can produce. If you have an evidence tech available to you, use him or her. If you are taking the photos, make sure you photograph the victim’s injuries and scene. This is one of the best ways to show the jury what had happened.

Obtain audio recordings. Depending on your state’s laws and rules of evidence, taped interviews of the victim and suspect can be admitted into court under certain circumstances. Understand what those rules of evidence are and use a portable tape recorder to capture interviews on scene. If a victim recants, an audio recording may be admissible to help win the case. Likewise, a recorded post-Miranda confession will likely ensure a conviction.

Another audio recording to submit into evidence is the original (and any subsequent) 911 call. Hearing the victim screaming for help on the 911 line is likely to convince the jury of the seriousness of the attack.

One other audio recording to think about is your radio traffic. I imagine almost every department records the radio traffic in case of pursuits, officer involved shootings, etc. If you are talking on the radio while the suspect is yelling in the background, that may be a good bit of evidence that the jury needs to hear.

Medical Records. Your department should have a medical record release form that you can have victims sign to obtain their records from the emergency room. If your victim is treated by paramedics on scene and/or hospital staff in the ER, the medical professionals will do an excellent job at documenting the injuries she has suffered. These records (1) help prove the strangulation actually occurred, and (2) will help show how serious this type of battery really is. Get your victim to sign the release, and get copies of those records into evidence.

Stay safe!

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Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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