Choking law good for state

It’s been about 11 weeks since a new law addressing specifically the violent act of strangulation — choking — went into effect in Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the commonwealth has been slow in disseminating information about it.

It’s likely that many people in the Mirror’s circulation area weren’t aware that the measure had been passed until they read reporter Greg Bock’s comprehensive account about the statute in last Sunday’s Mirror.

The law went into effect Dec. 26.

It’s probably safe to say that, over the course of the more than 11 weeks since, some people who were choked during violent encounters or domestic incidents didn’t notify law enforcement, but would have, if they had known about the law’s existence and understood it.

In the past, such assaults were prosecuted under other Pennsylvania criminal statutes, but knowledge about the new law might have provided added incentive and a better sense of security for more victims to come forward.

Equally important, knowledge about the law and the beefed-up penalties tied to such a crime might have deterred some individuals from employing that horrific form of violence having the potential for a fatal outcome.

The existence of the statute on the books isn’t enough. Everyone needs to be aware of this new weapon for responding to such violence.

But as Bock’s article pointed out, there’s no assurance the new statute won’t be challenged in the courts.

Bock quoted local lawyers who are troubled by what they described as the law’s vague wording. The attorneys indicated that the law’s vague language might subject it to constitutional attacks.

One of those attorneys, Dan Kiss, said, “The best intentions of the law are overshadowed by its vagueness and a potential for abuse . . . it invites a constitutional challenge.”

But it’s the opinion of Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio that the new law is an excellent statute. He said that, when prosecuting domestic violence cases in the past, it was difficult to show enough evidence to charge suspects with felony aggravated assault rather than the less serious charge of misdemeanor simple assault.

Sunday’s article reported that up until now, police in Blair County had charged a half-dozen people under provisions of the new law, including two in the previous week.

While not referring to any of those particular cases, local defense attorney Thomas Dickey predicted that there would be “a lot of constitutional attacks on this statute as more people are charged with it.”

Ellen Kramer, deputy director of the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence, described the new law as critical to addressing such violence. She said statistics reveal that choking is involved in about 54 percent of the cases reported to police.

The key word is “reported.”

The victims of many violent encounters involving choking never report those incidents to law enforcement authorities.

Pennsylvania, hard-pressed financially, is not too hard-pressed to beef up dissemination of information about the new law.

The state also has valuable allies like the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and local-level agencies in the 67 counties to help with that delivery.

Choking can have long-term physical and neurological consequences. Some of those injuries prove fatal in the end.

This law is good for Pennsylvania, even if courts someday order some tweaking.