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Oklahoma Domestic Violence Laws

An Owasso man was arrested this weekend after allegedly punching and choking his sister-in-law in a case that highlights some of the lesser-known details of Oklahoma’s domestic violence laws.

Police say Michael Sean Graves, 39, and his wife attended a reception Sunday, leaving his 13-year-old niece to babysit. When the couple returned home, Graves was irate to find that the house was dirty and the girl had not picked up while they were gone. The man allegedly began yelling at the girl, and when his sister-in-law, the girl’s mother, tried to intervene, he turned his anger on her. The woman says that Graves chased her before pinning her to the ground and punching and choking her.

Graves allegedly admitted that he had been drinking and became angry, but denied that he choked his sister-in-law, even though his own wife told police that she saw him pin the woman to the ground and choke her.

Graves, who will turn 40 tomorrow, was arrested and booked into the Tulsa County Jail on a complaint of domestic assault and battery by strangulation. He was released Monday afternoon on $10,000 bond.

Typically, when we hear of domestic violence, we think of spousal abuse, child abuse, or intimate partner violence. However, Oklahoma law lists a number of relationships that elevate a typical assault charge to domestic assault and battery. Domestic abuse is defined in 21 O.S. § 644(c) as “assault and battery against a current or former spouse, a present spouse of a former spouse, a former spouse of a present spouse, parents, a foster parent, a child, a person otherwise related by blood or marriage, a person with whom the defendant is or was in a dating relationship . . ., an individual with whom the defendant has had a child, a person who formerly lived in the same household as the defendant, or a person living in the same household as the defendant.”

The difference between the penalties for assault and battery and for domestic assault and battery are significant. Typically, assault and battery is punishable by a maximum of 90 days in county jail. However, domestic abuse is generally punishable by a maximum of one year on the first offense and a maximum of four years in prison for a second or subsequent offense.

Whether or not a court finds that the defendant choked his victim is another factor that can have a significant impact on sentencing. Choking another person in a domestic altercation is charged as domestic abuse by strangulation. As a first offense, domestic abuse by strangulation is punishable by a term of one to three years in prison. A second or subsequent conviction carries a term of three to ten years in prison.

State law defines “strangulation” as “any form of asphyxia; including, but not limited to, asphyxia characterized by closure of the blood vessels or air passages of the neck as a result of external pressure on the neck or the closure of the nostrils or mouth as a result of external pressure on the head.” Putting one’s hands around another’s neck in the course of a physical altercation can triple the penalties associated with domestic abuse.

Letting an argument become physical can lead to serious criminal consequences. In any disagreement, it is best to keep your hands to yourself, walk away, and cool off.

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