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Domestic Strangulation Gets Probation

Nebraska has a new law that went into effect in Mid-April that classifies domestic strangulation as a Class 4 Felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. 

The first conviction has made its way through the court system (emphasis mine): 

LA VISTA, Neb.  What may be Nebraska’s first felony strangulation conviction has made its way through the courts, but the victim’s family isn’t happy with the outcome. The new classification of domestic strangulation as a crime is punishable by up to five years in prison, but Daniel Chumley, of La Vista, got probation. The victim’s family believes the system let them down, but the Sarpy County Attorney feels differently. 

Memorial weekend 2004, Tiffany Johnson’s ex-boyfriend, Daniel Chumley, showed up at her apartment and strangled her with his hands.  "She was choked, basically, to unconsciousness," said Christi Adams, Johnson’s mother.  Chumley ran and hid at his mother’s house. He staged a four-hour standoff with police, which ended when tear gas finally forced him out.

Adams said her daughter lives in fear of Chumley. When Chumley pleaded guilty to a felony charge under Nebraska’s new strangulation statute she had hoped he would be sentenced to one to three years in prison.  "So, it was quite a shock when she got a phone call on the morning of sentencing that there was a possibility this judge would give him probation," said Adams.

Chumley was not sentenced to one to three years; he received probation, even though he’s in jail now for violating DUI probation.  Sarpy County District Judge William Zastera sentenced Chumley to 30 months probation. He must refrain from alcohol use and complete an inpatient treatment program. Zastera declined to comment on the case.

Chief Deputy Sarpy County Attorney Tricia Freeman, who helped draft the strangulation legislation, said without the new felony law, Chumley may have gotten off on a misdemeanor.  Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov believes the system worked.  "A felony conviction is a serious condition," said Polikov. "It’s a defendant who’s going to have to jump through some significant hoops. And if he doesn’t, I’m sure he’ll do time."

I certainly appreciate the fact that this case didn’t turn out to bring with it a misdemeanor offense, but instead of writing a law to segment this type of crime out from others, I think it would have been a more valuable effort to strengthen the law to charge these types of criminals more heavily, more aligned with attempted murder, not merely assault.  I’m finding it hard to understand why strangling someone to unconsciousness wouldn’t be considered attempted murder, carrying with it a much stronger penalty.  It seems to be that laws are written to err on the side of the criminal with the questionable behavior versus protecting the victim.  This man should be serving time in a facility, not on probation.

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Agreed. You don't need a separate crime for strangulation. It's murder if it works, and assault with intent to kill if it doesn't.

Merri said:

There you go - couldn't have said it better myself!

Sharon said:

I would have to agree! I am currently waiting on an outcome on the very same type of case and this is very disheartening to see what his sentence was. I no longer have a good feeling of the out come.

Sharon said:

Well just an update, my husband got 18 mths probation! Seems like there is no justice. After saying to the judge that he was sorry if he ever hurt me he went directly to lying and then after sentencing we were out of the courtroom, he and his girlfriend walked by laughing. Great justice.

Merri said:

That's awful, Sharon...and unfortunately so typical of the judicial system. They seem to be so worried about victimizing the abuser they forget there really is a victim out there. I've seen people get more of a sentence for a drunk-driving offense...not that I condone drinking and driving, but it just seems to be very unbalanced. His "girlfriend" should watch her back - she may be next. So sorry to hear that you had to go through all of that!