West Hartford Lawmaker Seeks Stiffer Knockout ‘Game’ Penalty
West Hartford Officer Tom Nagle said his 18-year-old son’s jaw was broken when he was sucker-punched by a stranger as he was walking across his college campus.
It’s attacks like this that state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, is trying to stop.
Verrengia proposed a bill that would make knocking someone unconscious punishable by a Class D felony, where two of the five-year maximum prison sentence can not be suspended. It would also seek to transfer cases involving minors over the age of 16 who are charged with the crime from juvenile to adult court.
The knockout game is where a person surprises a stranger by knocking them out with a punch, but according to some it’s an urban myth that’s being spread by Internet videos and isn’t happening with the frequency that one might believe.
Verrengia, who is a police sergeant in West Hartford, admitted that the frequency of these incidents is difficult to track and he has no statistics.
Asked if it was a myth proliferated by videos on the Internet, Verrengia said, “if you ask a victim who has been victimized by one of these very serious crimes I think they would say otherwise. This is a real issue.”
What’s scary about the “knockout game” is that it can “happen to anyone, at anytime, at any place,” Verrengia said.
He said this is the first time the bill has been proposed and he’s opening to working with those who may have some revisions.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue told the Public Safety Committee Tuesday that “unconsciousness” is already recognized by Connecticut law to be a serious physical injury.
“So anyone who commits a knockout crime and causes unconsciousness has already violated general statutes,” Sugrue told the committee.
The bill makes the person who knocks someone unconscious subject to two separate statutes. He said the existing one carriers no mandatory minimum, but a new section of the bill creates a two-year mandatory minimum. He said that could cause charging distinctions among prosecutors if it passed.
Also, in order to avoid the new language of a bill which refers specifically to a one-punch knockout, criminals could use a one-two punch approach and avoid a two-year mandatory minimum.
Christine Rapillo, director of the delinquency defense and child protection division of Public Defender Services, said that the proposal is unnecessary.
“Public safety is already adequately protected by current criminal laws,” Rapillo wrote in her testimony to the committee.
Further, “proposing to make this Class D felony automatically transferred to the adult docket is unreasonably harsh and runs counter to every reform that has been accomplished in juvenile justice in Connecticut,” she added. “. . . A blanket rule that all such cases be transferred runs contrary to current knowledge that young people are more likely to rehabilitate and not re-offend when they are placed into developmentally appropriate rehabilitate services through the juvenile court system.”
In addition, second-degree assault is already a crime that can be considered for transfer from juvenile to adult court.
“Since this proposed offense would be based on the intent of the accused, it is much more appropriate to leave the decision to transfer to the prosecutor and the judge,” Rapillo added.
The committee has until March 18 to vote on the legislation.