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LegalGround >> New York State Article 121 - "Stangulation"

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1/19/11 7:12 PM
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Member Since: 3/8/10
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A friend of mine in NYPD recently received his updates to the NYS Penal Code and shared with me something I found disturbing; Article 121 - "Strangulation and Related Offenses" and more specifically articles 121.11 - 121.14. From my understanding this was first passed in the summer, but not actually put on the books and enforced as such until the beginning of this year.


With the passing of this law given the way it reads, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are breaking the law every day and committing class A misdemeanors or worse (literally, criminal acts) while never having the intention of doing so.

The are a few concerns with this law:

1) The scope of the law is too broad.
2) There is nothing discerning strangulation of malicious intent from competitive, and also provides no defenses for it athletically.
3) Given the current wording, the actual act of choking in-and-of-itself becomes an illegal act.

Addressing the concerns:
When reading 121.11, there is nothing separating a choke of malicious intent from a competitive one. Without additional phrasing such as "with intent to cause harm" or "while in progress of another criminal act", a martial arts practitioner applying a rear-naked choke on a willing sparring partner in a dojo is legally committing the same misdemeanor as a person choking the cashier at a local 7-11 at 3:00AM to open the cash till (overlooking the act of robbery of course).

What's even more disturbing is that the aggravating factors that push the "crime" from a misdemeanor to felony have absolutely nothing to do with the person's intent or the circumstances surrounding the event, and everything do with how effective the choke itself is applied. In fact, given the way the law is written (section 121.12), if you have a training partner that is too proud to tap and you put him to sleep, you have committed a worse act than the previously provided robbery scenario (strictly in the eyes of Article 121).

Among the defenses in section 121.14 the law allows for a "medical or dental purpose", but fails to recognize that many sports allow for choke holds. Another problem with the wording of this law is that the acting of choking in-and-of-itself becomes illegal. While that may not sound like an unusual concept, keep in mind that there technically is no law outright making it illegal to punch or kick somebody. Articles in section 120 of the NYS penal code (the laws governing assault) are more precisely defined as "a person is guilty of assault when they punch or kick another person" which is essentially the wording used for the strangulation laws. When speaking strictly, you could give your friend a playful punch to the arm and not break any laws, while the same does not apply to the strangulation laws.

Please keep in mind that I am not saying that the intent of this law is too make illegal any combat sport, or that it is the intent of New York to have police officers walk into a local BJJ academy and arrest everyone. However, given the lack of proper wording pertaining to the scope of the law and lack of mens rea in the aggravating factors I feel that it is important that issue be more widely known within the MMA and combative sport community. I have written a letter to my local representative stating my stance on what I feel is a lackadaisically written bill, whose goodhearted purpose is overshadowed by unintentionally implicating too many good people.

If you agree, I beseech your help in helping spread the word. Please pass this on to anyone who cares enough to take action, and if you live in New York please take a stance by sending a letter to your local representative.


While I highly doubt many will care, I fully believe the actions of few can do great things. The intention is not to get a law repealed, but only to get it rewritten. Thank you for taking the time to read and research this.
1/20/11 11:04 AM
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Member Since: 11/12/00
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Has New York abandoned the rule of lenity?

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