Last fall, Jonathan Charbonneau of Manchester, N.H., was arrested and accused of choking his wife, Melissa Cantin Charbonneau. Charged with a misdemeanor, he posted $30 bond and was released. Two days later, police said, he shot and killed his wife.

In another New Hampshire choking case last year, a county prosecutor failed to get a felony assault conviction because state law required that the defendant display "extreme indifference to the value of human life."

Domestic violence experts in New Hampshire and elsewhere argue that the terrifying act of choking ought to be designated as a felony offense instead of minimized as a misdemeanor or held to an unreasonably high statutory standard. Studies point to choking as a precursor to more domestic violence, including fatal attacks.

In New Hampshire, prosecutors and domestic violence victims' advocates pressed for legislative action, and lawmakers responded with a bill that makes choking a felony offense punishable to up to seven years in prison. The new law takes effect Jan. 1.

Delaware enacted a similar law last month, joining Illinois, Nevada and Wyoming.

New York has seen two high-profile domestic violence cases in recent months. Former state senator Hiram Monserrate of Queens was convicted of misdemeanor assault stemming from a fight with his girlfriend. And Gov. David Paterson came under fire for intervening in a dispute involving a close aide who allegedly choked his girlfriend.

Over the past year, New York lawmakers have approved measures allowing domestic violence victims to cast special election ballots if they have to leave home, and preventing job discrimination against victims of domestic abuse or stalking. Pending legislation would make a felony of aggravated domestic violence; provide victims with free unlisted phone numbers; allow unpaid leaves of absence for victims of abuse; upgrade to first-degree murder the charge against someone with a pattern of domestic violence who kills; and bar housing discrimination against those who leave abusive partners.

In March, a new bill was added to the hopper that would create a felony charge for choking.

Onondaga County and New York state already have strong laws and procedures in place to protect victims of domestic abuse. A new statute focusing specifically on choking could make that protection even more effective. It deserves prompt consideration.


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