Serious Bodily Harm and Serious Bodily Injury Laws

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 What Is Serious Bodily Harm?

Serious bodily harm is a legal concept that is used in criminal cases. Serious bodily harm is often distinguished from other types of harm, for example, emotional harm or psychological damage.

The phrase serious bodily harm (SBH) is also related to other terms, including:

Serious bodily harm may result from intentional or unintentional, or negligent, conduct. Crimes involving serious bodily harm are typically considered serious crimes that are dangerous to the health and safety of the public.

Criminal cases involving serious bodily harm may be charged as misdemeanors, felonies, or wobbler crimes. A wobbler crime is a crime that may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case.

What Are Some Examples of Serious Bodily Harm and Serious Bodily Injury?

State laws may vary regarding the definitions of serious bodily injury and serious bodily harm. In general, serious bodily harm is any injury that seriously interferes with an individual’s health or comfort and is long-lasting instead of short-lived.

Common examples of serious bodily injury include, but are not limited to:

  • Paralysis;
  • Loss of a limb;
  • Loss of a functioning limb;
  • Broken bones;
  • Head, neck, or spine injuries;
  • Serious cuts or burns; and
  • Scarring or serious disfigurement.

Serious bodily harm is often associated with cases that involve recklessness in a car accident as well as intentional crimes, such as:

How Is Serious Bodily Harm Involved in Criminal Laws?

In criminal cases, serious bodily injury may change the outcome of the case. For example, if a crime involved serious bodily harm to the plaintiff, it may cause what would have been a misdemeanor crime to be elevated to a felony.

For example, battery is typically a misdemeanor offense. However, if a battery causes serious bodily injury to a victim, the perpetrator will typically face felony charges.

This increase in the severity of charges may occur when a misdemeanor DUI charge is raised to a felony charge because one or more of the victims suffered serious bodily injury from the DUI incident. Serious bodily injury is typically considered to be an aggravating factor that can raise a misdemeanor crime to a felony crime.

Crimes that involve serious bodily harm are typically punished as felony crimes. A felony conviction may result in criminal fines and a prison sentence of at least one year.

It is important to note that the characteristics of a victim may influence the seriousness of the charges against a defendant. Examples of these types of victims may include, but may not be limited to:

  • Police officers;
  • Women;
  • Children; or
  • Elderly individuals.

What Is Deadly Force?

Deadly force is a legal concept that involves physical force being used that is capable of causing someone serious bodily injury or death to another individual.

When Can Deadly Force Be Used?

Deadly force may be used as a defense to impending serious bodily harm or death. Deadly force may also be used as a defense:

  • To protect a third party from serious bodily harm or death;
  • To prevent a crime from occurring; and
  • By law enforcement.

A court will determine whether deadly force was justified by examining certain factors, including:

  • The amount force that was used;
  • Whether the amount of force was reasonable;
  • Whether the plaintiff used deadly force first;
  • Comparing the plaintiff’s height, age, and weight to the defendant’s weight, height, and age;
  • Analyzing whether deadly weapons were used by the plaintiff or by the defendant; and
  • Analyzing whether either party had training in combat or martial arts.

The amount of deadly force that is used by the defendant must match the plaintiff’s level of deadly force. In other words, a defendant will only have the right to use deadly force when the plaintiff uses it against them first.

Deadly force often involves the use of a weapon, for example a:

  • Gun;
  • Knife; or
  • Blunt striking instrument.

It is important to note that deadly force may be applied even without the use of a weapon, especially if the perpetrator has specific training in:

  • Martial arts;
  • Military applications; or
  • Other similar methods.

For example, an individual who has a black belt in martial arts could apply deadly force under specific circumstances.

What Is Serious Bodily Injury in a DUI Case?

All of the states in the United States have laws that govern driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI). DUI and DWI drunk driving laws impose legal consequences on individuals who are caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a certain percentage, usually 0.08%.

The legal penalties for a DUI offense may be increased if the incident causes serious bodily injury to another individual. In many states, serious bodily harm will result in a DUI being charged as a felony.

Felony charges carry more serious consequences than misdemeanor crimes, including longer sentences in a prison facility, increased fines, and losses of other freedoms, such as owning firearms.

What Are the Legal Consequences of DUI-SBI charges?

As noted above, a DUI case involving serious bodily injury will usually be charged as a felony. In addition to the punishments a defendant regularly faces for a felony offense, an individual may also face other legal consequences, including, but not limited to:

  • A temporary or permanent loss of driving privileges, which includes having their driver’s license suspended or revoked;
  • Monitoring measures, which may include:
    • being placed under house arrest;
    • ignition interlock devices; and
    • secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring (SCRAM) ankle bracelets;
  • Mandatory alcohol rehabilitation courses;
  • Mandatory counseling;
  • The loss of certain civil privileges, which includes the right to vote and the right to own a firearm; and
  • The loss of child visitation or custody privileges, especially in cases where the child was involved in the DUI incident.

It is important to note that a felony charge is typically much more difficult for an individual to have expunged or sealed from their criminal record than a misdemeanor charge. A felony drunk driving charge is considered to be a very serious felony offense.

Are There Criminal Defenses Available to Serious Bodily Harm?

An individual who is charged with committing a crime becomes a criminal defendant. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until the prosecution proves that they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

A defense justifies or excuses a defendant’s criminal behavior and may, in some cases, prevent a criminal conviction, or reduce a criminal charge. The defenses that are available to a defendant will vary based on the facts of the case.

One defense that may be used against serious bodily injury charges is self-defense. This defense can be used in cases where:

  • The defendant was not the aggressor;
  • The defendant’s reaction was reasonable response to the threat; and
  • The defendant reasonably believed that they were in danger of imminent serious bodily injury or death.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Serious Bodily Harm Laws?

If you have been charged with a crime that involves serious bodily harm or serious bodily injury, it is essential to have the assistance of a criminal lawyer. Your lawyer can provide you with expert advice and ensure your rights are protected.

Your lawyer can also examine the laws of your state and determine what, if any, defenses may be available to you. Having a felony conviction on your criminal record can affect almost every aspect of your life, so it is important to ensure you are represented during court appearances and throughout the case.

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