The Suffolk County district attorney’s office has launched a pilot program aimed at helping prosecutors combat domestic violence by focusing on crimes involving strangulation.
Seven nurses will begin training next week to learn, among other skills, how to recognize the signs and symptoms of strangulation and collect evidence that can be used to convict the offenders, Timothy Sini, the Suffolk district attorney, said Thursday at a news conference in Riverhead.
The team of nurses, Sini said, will be hired on a freelance basis to help police and prosecutors build stronger cases against those accused of strangulation.
“It’s often the case that there is a felony strangulation, but without proper investigation by specially trained forensic examiners we’re not able to prove that in a court of law,” Sini said.
The program will also include enhanced training for Suffolk County Police officers and domestic violence service providers on recognizing and investigating instances of strangulation, officials said.
Last year, 398 people were arrested in Suffolk and charged with criminal obstruction of breathing, a misdemeanor crime that does not require proof of physical injuries, according to Sini and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart. During the same time, another 19 people were arrested and charged with strangulation in the second degree, a felony, which is a more serious crime that requires proof of physical injuries or proof of loss of consciousness.
All the arrests, Hart said, stemmed from domestic violence incidents.
“Studies have shown that almost 50 percent of domestic violence homicide victims have experienced at least one episode of attempted strangulation before a serious injury or death at the hands of their offender,” Hart said.
At the news conference, Sini, who did not have the conviction rates for strangulations, said his staff would provide them afterward. His staff did not provide those statistics as of Thursday evening.
Strangulation became a crime in November 2010, Sini said.
The small-scale project, rolled out in early October in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, will end in December, at which time Sini said his office will determine how many nurses are needed. He said funds from the district attorney’s office will be used to pay for nurses’ services.
The nurses, who will be on call, will conduct the clinical assessment of alleged victims, collect evidence, and serve as expert witnesses at trial and other criminal proceedings, officials said.
The cost per exam is $250, Sini said. The nurses will be paid another $250 per day when they are called to testify in court.