AG Platkin Issues New Law Enforcement Directive Establishing Multidisciplinary Response to Strangulation and Smothering

TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today issued a Law Enforcement Directive establishing the framework for a response team — known as the “Breathing/Blood Flow Restriction Event: Advocacy, Treatment, Help, and Empowerment” (BREATHE) Team — responsible for responding to crimes of nonfatal strangulation and smothering.

Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2023-03 requires County Prosecutors to develop and implement procedures to refer victims of nonfatal strangulation and/or smothering for a forensic medical examination. This Directive builds upon the successful procedures already implemented in several counties, which established strangulation and smothering response teams. These BREATHE teams will consist of a qualified Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) to conduct a forensic medical exam, a law enforcement officer, and a victim advocate. This Directive also sets forth clear parameters that will help establish better emergency care to victims of these crimes and improve the quality of forensic evidence and information collected during these investigations for future prosecution.

Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence and correlates to an approximately 750 percent increased risk of homicide of the domestic violence victim by the offender. Individuals with a history of strangling intimate partners have been linked to being perpetrators in officer-involved critical incidents, intentional line of duty homicides, and mass murders. Many victims of strangulation exhibit no visible signs of injuries, but, because of the physical trauma inflicted, they may sustain life-threatening internal injuries, including traumatic brain injury, damage to carotid arteries, stroke, and/or permanent visual impairment. Even when victims exhibit noticeable injuries associated with strangulation, the injuries may appear minor and limited to the area of the body where their abuser applied pressure.

This Directive is the latest step taken by Attorney General Platkin to address and combat violent crime through a victim-centered approach that prioritizes a victim’s health and well-being to minimize re-traumatization associated with the criminal justice process. By providing the support of victim advocates and service providers through the responding BREATHE Teams, survivors are empowered to engage and participate in the process.

The BREATHE initiative is made possible due to the investments in Governor Murphy’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which appropriates $4.2 million for FNEs as well as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. Previously, the State relied solely on federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) dollars for these nurse examiner resources. While VOCA funds have decreased over the years, the State has not only stepped up to ensure a continuity of these essential services, but has allowed for an expansion of on-call, activation, and exam fees to include non-fatal strangulation cases.

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