On February 2, 2016, a bipartisan group of eleven West Virginia delegates introduced House Bill 4362, 1 aimed at creating a separate criminal offense for the act of strangulation. 2 The West Virginia Legislature passed it on March 5, 2016, and the governor signed it into law on March 9, 2016. 3 Until the new law took effect on June 3, 2016, 4 West Virginia was one of a minority of states to lack such a statute. 5 Although West Virginia is now part of a growing number of jurisdictions to punish strangulation as a felony, 6 the statutory language and elements of the crime vary widely by state. 7 Now, over a year since the law’s passage, this Article will attempt to appraise its initial effectiveness and recommend some changes regarding its future application.
When the West Virginia Legislature meets in future sessions, it will likely consider revisions to this new law. As it does so, it should weigh the approaches of other state legislatures in deciding the severity of punishment and providing clarifying language. West Virginia courts now face the challenge of interpreting what actions constitute a qualifying offense for conviction. When comparing the standards used in the judiciaries of other states, their approaches are diverse. If the West Virginia Legislature pursues measures to clearly define the statutory elements necessary for a conviction, it will mitigate the potential for disparate approaches. In Section II, this Article will trace the background of the new law and analyze the positions of other states and West Virginia in applying strangulation laws. In Section III, it will offer some possible solutions to the challenges currently facing the court system.