Exploring the Scope of North Carolina’s Strangulation Law

What do you typically think of when you hear the word “strangulation”? If you are like most people, the word probably triggers a mental image of hands around someone’s throat. Thinking forward to the aftereffects of strangulation, you might imagine bruises around a person’s neck, redness, scratches, or other visible signs of injury.

Although those are common results, it is not uncommon for a person to present with no external injuries after having been strangled. Rather, a person could potentially be suffering from serious internal injuries. If overlooked, internal injuries can result in severe or permanent conditions.

North Carolina’s strangulation law requires both that the perpetrator “strangle” the victim and inflict “physical injury.” This post explores the meaning of those elements, the potential issues that may arise in applying them, and the approach other jurisdictions take toward the crime of strangulation. The post closes with some observations about whether North Carolina’s current definition of strangulation adequately addresses the ways in which the crime may occur.

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How Serious Is a “Serious Bodily Injury”?

Here’s a question for you: which of the following injuries is more serious?

  • The victim, a police officer injured while fighting with a suspect, “sustained puncture wounds [from bites] on his left forearm and right bicep.” The officer testified that the bites were extremely painful, and they caused “severe bruising and depressions, [and] permanent scarring . . . includ[ing] a large circle on his right bicep, ‘just over a half an inch to an inch in a circle’ with a ‘large depression[,]’ and ‘a deep ridge’ on his left arm. The officer experienced loss of sleep and extreme stress [and] had to be tested multiple times for communicable diseases.”
  • The victim, a six-year-old girl injured when her father “forcibly twisted” her leg until it broke, suffered a “spiral fracture” of her femur. A physician described such fractures as “incredibly painful,” and the child required morphine to control her discomfort. She was placed in traction and underwent surgery to place titanium rods in her leg. The surgery resulted in lifelong scars. The victim was in a cast for several weeks, and used a wheelchair and a walker during her recovery. She regained the full use of her leg in five to eight months, but had to repeat kindergarten as a result of missing so much school.

You can vote on the answer below. Once you have voted, read on to see how the court of appeals viewed these two scenarios.

Which injury was more serious?

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