The Effectiveness of a Coordinated Response Toward Nonfatal Strangulation in Facilitating Evidence-Based Prosecution

Published date01 October 2021
Date01 October 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(8) 816 –840
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034211001912
The Effectiveness of a
Coordinated Response
Toward Nonfatal
Strangulation in Facilitating
Evidence-Based Prosecution
Amy Reckdenwald1, Chelsea L. Mandes1,
and Ketty Fernandez1
Many states’ laws now classify nonfatal strangulation as part of domestic violence as a
felony offense, but prosecution of offenders remains challenging due to the nature of this
type of violent offense. This study evaluates a coordinated effort designed to improve
one county’s response to nonfatal strangulation. The impact of law enforcement
training and specialized forensic medical examinations on facilitating evidence-based
prosecution of nonfatal strangulation offenders is examined. Preliminary support is
found for the effectiveness of the coordinated effort, highlighting the importance of
comprehensive law enforcement training and detailed medical evidence in facilitating
evidence-based prosecution.
domestic violence, intimate partner violence, evaluation, criminal justice system,
strangulation, forensic medical examinations
There have been significant legal changes in the last two decades in the treatment of
nonfatal strangulation occurring within a domestic relationship. Statutory changes have
made nonfatal strangulation, a potentially life-threatening assault, a felony offense in
1University of Central Florida, Orlando, USA
Corresponding Author:
Amy Reckdenwald, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida, 4000
Central Florida Blvd., Howard Phillips Hall, 406-G, Orlando, FL 32816-1360, USA.
1001912CJPXXX10.1177/08874034211001912Criminal Justice Policy ReviewReckdenwald et al.
Reckdenwald et al. 817
many states across the United States (Pritchard et al., 2017). These statutory changes
emerged as awareness grew regarding the serious consequences of strangulation,
including, but not limited to, miscarriage, loss of consciousness, and even delayed
death (Funk & Schuppel, 2003; Glass et al., 2008; Iserson, 1984; McClane et al., 2001;
Messing et al., 2018; Plattner et al., 2005; Pritchard et al., 2017; Smith et al., 2001;
Stanley & Hanson, 1983; Strack et al., 2001). Research also indicates that strangulation
commonly occurs multiple times during the course of a violent relationship (5.3 times
on average; Wilbur et al., 2001), and multiple attacks on separate occasions results in
an increased frequency of strangulation injuries (Messing et al., 2018; Smith et al.,
2001). In addition, research has shown a women’s risk of homicide increases 7.5 times
if they have been strangled in the past (Glass et al., 2008).
Although statutory changes designed to treat nonfatal strangulation as a serious
offense and potentially lethal assault have emerged, prosecuting nonfatal strangulation
offenders is incredibly difficult due to evidentiary issues (Strack et al., 2001; also see
Reckdenwald et al., 2019). Corroborating physical evidence of the attack is especially
critical in prosecuting offenders as domestic violence victims commonly recant abuse
allegations or refuse to testify (Lininger, 2005), and there are restrictions on the use of
hearsay as evidence in court (see Crawford v. Washington, 2004). If felony strangula-
tion laws are to be effective, local law enforcement, medical personnel, and prosecu-
tors must work collaboratively to promote evidence-based prosecution of strangulation
offenders; however, there is a lack of research examining the impact of coordinated
efforts among local agencies in providing justice to victims by holding offenders
accountable for nonfatal strangulation.
A coordinated multiagency response between law enforcement; medical, legal, and
shelter personnel; and victim advocates was implemented in a Florida county. The
coordinated effort was designed to enhance the county’s response to nonfatal strangu-
lation by increasing corroborating evidence of the attack to improve case outcomes in
the criminal justice system. To do so, law enforcement received strangulation-specific
training to improve how strangulation was identified and documented in police reports.
In addition, forensic medical examinations were given to victims of nonfatal strangu-
lation by forensic nurse examiners (FNEs) who were trained to accurately document
forensic evidence and testify as expert witnesses in court.
As the first evaluation of a multiagency coordinated response toward nonstrangula-
tion, we began our focus on examining the impact of providing law enforcement with
strangulation-specific training (see Reckdenwald et al., 2019). Results showed these
efforts were effective in improving identification and documentation of nonfatal stran-
gulation in police reports. This study presents the second part of the evaluation results
of this coordinated response, particularly regarding the impact of additional corrobo-
rating evidence (from police and FNEs) on the prosecutorial response. The goal is to
determine whether providing law enforcement training along with forensic medical
examination documentation results in increased filing, charging, and convictions for
felony strangulation. With research showing deficiencies in the prosecutorial response
toward nonfatal strangulation in the county prior to this coordinated response (see
Reckdenwald et al., 2020), it is essential to determine whether, in fact, efforts designed

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