Domestic Assault by Strangulation - Specific Intent Crime

Domestic assault by strangulation can often be the byproduct of substance use and/or abuse. A bad night. Some bad choices. Spurred by the affects of alcohol or drugs clouding someone’s judgment. When this happens, an appropriate defense would be voluntary intoxication – which argues that the defendant did not have the requisite intent to commit the alleged crime. But, voluntary intoxication is only available as a defense to specific intent crimes. And, as of yet, no Minnesota appellate court has issued a binding ruling as to whether domestic assault by strangulation was a specific intent crime that would permit raising the voluntary intoxication defense. Through the work of North Star Criminal Defense, we can now say that domestic assault by strangulation should be (read: is) a specific intent crime. The importance of this cannot be understated.

To begin with, we first must understand the difference between general intent and specific intent when it comes to assault crimes. In 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that domestic assault-harm is a general intent crime, whereas domestic assault-fear is a specific intent crime. The Court’s reasoning focused on the statutory language and, more specifically, what the mental state was tied to. In layman’s terms, was the mental state required (i.e. intent) connected to the criminal act or the criminal result. If the intent pertains to the criminal act, it’s a general intent crime. And the opposite holds true if the intent pertains to the criminal result.

With that background, let’s look at the domestic assault by strangulation statutory language: “intentionally impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood by applying pressure on the throat or neck or by blocking the nose or mouth of another person.” Here, ‘intentionally’ is the mental state language that we must focus on. It is tied directly to the result of the crime: “impeding normal breathing or circulation.” Because of this, domestic assault by strangulation should be (is) a specific intent crime.

Rather surprisingly, this issue has not been analyzed by the appellate courts. There is only one court of appeals decision that handles it, but it’s an unreported case – which means it is not binding precedent (dumb, I know). With that being said, this one appellate court decision was released shortly after the previously-alluded-to Supreme Court decision and the Supreme Court declined to clarify this unreported decision. So, to us, it might as well be binding precedent – especially with such strong statutory language favoring it being a specific intent crime.

Armed with this critical analysis, the North Star team successfully argued this point to a local court, which ruled in our favor. As a result, a client who was impaired at the time of the allegations can now raise a critical defense that will favor him during negotiations and trial preparations. And just as importantly, this district court ruling will be used favorably for future clients who also had a bad night, with some bad choices, spurred by the affects of alcohol or drugs clouding their judgment. Domestic assault by strangulation: a specific intent crime.