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What injuries constitute “serious bodily injury” when charged with an assault and battery in Massachusetts

When facing an assault and battery charge in Massachusetts a defendant may face the more severe charge of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury if the evidence shows the assault caused a serious bodily injury. This turns the assault and battery from a misdemeanor to a felony and carries significantly harsher punishment. The recent case of Commonwealth v. Scott was decided by the Supreme Judicial Court and faced the issue of what injuries are sufficient to be a serious bodily injury under G. L. c. 265 ยง13A(b).

Commonwealth v. Scott involved a defendant who went to his ex-girlfriend’s home to confront her. Defendant became violent during the time in the victim’s home. Defendant punched the victim in the face, stomach, threatened her with a knife and beat her with a can of soda. The victim suffered several injuries, the worst being a lacerated liver.
The defendant was convicted of several crimes like kidnapping and assault and battery, but because of the lacerated liver defendant was also convicted of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury. To constitute a serious bodily injury, the injury had to result in either (1) a permanent disfigurement; (2) loss or impairment of a bodily function, limb or organ or; (3) a substantial risk of death. The only question on this appeal was if there was enough evidence to show the injury caused an impairment of an organ. The court held that there was no sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that there was impairment.

The SJC ruled that for there to be an impairment of an organ, the injury has to have a significant effect on the structure and function of the liver. With the evidence that was presented at trial, the court stated that a jury would not be able to find there was a significant effect on the structure of the liver. The evidence introduced consisted of medical records, but there was no expert testimony by a doctor or a surgeon to explain the extent of the victim’s injury. The injury consisted of mostly pain to the abdomen but no surgery, medication or other treatment was needed for the injury to the liver. The medical reports simply stated the victim suffered a grade II lacerated liver. Without any expert testimony, the jury could not know what impact a grade II lacerated liver had on the normal structure and function of a liver. A jury is allowed to draw inferences from evidence, but they are not allowed to speculate that a lacerated liver must have caused an impairment.

Without expert testimony, it will be very difficult for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a bodily function, limb or organ was impaired. A jury will not know every function of the body and that is certainly the case of an organ. Without a Dr. describing the extent of the injury, a jury will not be able to know if the primary functions of an organ or bodily function are affected. Commonwealth v. Scott shows the limits to an injury being classified as a severe bodily injury. An injury may cause severe pain and may even require treatment or hospitalization, but unless the injury has a significant impact on the function and structure on the organ, bodily function or limb, it cannot be classified as a serious bodily injury.

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