Choking, Suffocation, and Strangulation (SA)

Every state and territory of Australia now has a standalone offence consisting of non-fatal strangulation. This offence is constituted differently in different jurisdictions. In South Australia, the offence is governed by section 20A of the Criminal Law Act Consolidation Act 1935. This page outlines the offence of strangulation in South Australia.

Introduction of the offence of strangulation

The offence of strangulation was introduced to the South Australian criminal law in 2019. This occurred because of a recognition that choking, suffocation, and strangulation are acts of violence that are often a precursor to homicide in a family violence context. Statistically, a person who is the victim of a strangulation offence is seven times more likely to subsequently become the victim of a fatal family violence assault.

During 2023, the strangulation laws in South Australia were reviewed. The review found that complainants in domestic violence prosecutions needed to be better supported during the criminal process due to the length of time it takes for a strangulation matter to be finalised. It also found that changes were needed to the legislation to clarify elements of the offence.

The offence of strangulation

It is an offence for a person to choke, suffocate, or strangle another person with whom they are in our domestic relationship without the other person’s consent. This offence attracts a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

What is strangulation?

Strangulation occurs when a person is breathing is restricted by pressure on the outside of the throat. Strangulation can cause death within a short period of time. It can also cause death days or even weeks later.

Victims of strangulation may suffer a range of medical consequences including difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, nausea, strokes, blood clots, and loss of consciousness.

What is a domestic relationship?

A domestic relationship includes:

  • spouses
  • partners
  • parents and children
  • siblings
  • Other family relationships

Defences

A person who is charged with the offence of choking, suffocation, or strangulation may rely on a legal defence. For example, a person may rely on the defence of self defence if the conduct was carried out in response to our physical threat and the conduct was a proportionate response to the level of violence the accused believed themselves to be facing. A person would also have a defence to a charge of choking, suffocation, or strangulation if the act took place consensually.

Jurisdiction

the offence of choking, suffocation, or strangulation is an indictable offence that can be dealt with summarily. This means that, with the consent of the parties, it may be finalised in a lower court — the Magistrates Court or the Children’s Court. It may also be finalised by a judge in a higher court after a committal proceeding.

When a matter is dealt with in a lower court, the maximum penalty that can be imposed for a single offence is five years imprisonment.

Other states

All states and territories have a standalone offence consisting of choking, suffocation, or strangulation. In some states, this offence only applies when this type of assault occurs in a family violence context. This is the case in Queensland and Victoria.

In other states, the offence applies to this type of assault whenever it occurs. This is the case in New South Wales and Tasmania. If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go to Court Lawyers.

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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