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NY Penal Law § 121.13: Strangulation in the First Degree

June 28, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Choking and strangling are the kinds of violent acts that are frequently associated with cases of domestic violence.  Strangulation is defined under New York’s criminal code as causing another individual to stop breathing or obstructing that person’s normal ability to breathe. Three criminal offenses in the criminal code are related to choking and strangling another person.  The most egregious of the three is the crime of strangulation in the first degree. Pursuant to New York Penal Code § 121.13, you can be charged and prosecuted for strangulation in the first degree if you apply pressure on the throat or neck of another individual or block another individual’s nose or mouth with intentions of impeding that person’s usual breathing or circulation of blood, and as a result you cause that individual to sustain a serious physical injury. Strangulation in the first is a class C felony.


An Example

During the course of an altercation in their home, a husband grabbed his wife by the neck and squeezed it. He continued to squeeze her by the neck until the woman fell limp onto the floor. The husband panicked and called 911. Emergency personnel arrived quickly, but they had a difficult time reviving the wife. Because of this, she was rushed to the hospital emergency room. The attending physician concluded that the wife suffered brain damage as a result of prolonged loss of oxygen to the brain. The husband was subsequently charged with strangulation in the first degree due to the severity of the wife’s injury.


Offenses that are Related

Strangulation in the second degree: New York Penal Law § 121.12

Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation: New York Penal Law § 121.11


Possible Defenses

In order to convict you of the crime of strangulation in the first degree the prosecutor must demonstrate that the victim sustained a serious physical injury.  There is a very specific definition under New York law of the term “serious physical injury.” This entails much more than a bruise or minor pain of the victim. Under New York Penal Code § 10.10(10), a “serious physical injury” speaks of an injury that results in protracted disfigurement, causes death or presents a significant risk of death. In the event that the victim suffered an injury that was not quite so serious, then a charge of strangulation in the first degree would not be valid.


The criminal code furnishes defendants a statutory defense against a charge of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation. According to New York Penal Code § 121. 13, if your actions are pursuant to a necessary medical or dental purpose, then you could bring a solid defense against a choking or strangulation charge.


The Sentence

Strangulation in the first degree is categorized as a class C felony, and also as a violent felony offense. If you are convicted, the maximum possible prison sentence is 15 years. You will face a minimum 3 1/2 years in prison, since in this case, a sentence of mere probation is not an option. In addition to that, you may also be required to pay a fine of up to $5,000 on top of restitution of up to $15,000 to the victim.


Moreover, strangulation in the first degree is also classified as a family offense. What that means to you is that if the choking took place in relation to a domestic violence incident, then the  prosecution of your case may be subject to the special guidelines related to concurrent jurisdiction under Criminal Procedure Law § 140.10(4).



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