Under Massachusetts law, anyone who commits assault or assault and battery may be punished by imprisonment for not more than two and a half years in a house of correction or with a fine of not more than $1,000. However, a defendant can be punished by up to five years in state prison or in the house of correction or by a fine of up to $5,000, or both a fine and imprisonment, when he or she commits assault and battery causing serious bodily injury.
Serious bodily injury includes those injuries that result in permanent disfigurement, the loss or impairment of a bodily function, limb, or organ, or the substantial risk that the victim will die. In a 2014 case, Commonwealth v. Rainey, a Massachusetts appellate court considered the conviction of a defendant convicted of assault and battery causing serious injury. He had appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence of serious bodily injury for the conviction and that the Commonwealth had failed to prove there was an absence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
The appellate court explained that a reasonable jury could have interpreted what happened as follows. Three female friends arrived by car to a party. At the party they met a male they knew (Donald Gammon, the victim) who had been drinking and was holding a beer can. They walked towards the party and passed a group that included the defendant. The defendant gave one of the victim’s friends the middle finger as they passed by.
Gammon approached the defendant’s group and admonished him for treating a girl that way. The defendant punched him in the mouth and knocked two of his teeth out. The victim bled heavily from his mouth and couldn’t stand. His mother took him to the ER, where he was treated for a two-centimeter laceration. His teeth were not replaced immediately because his mouth was too swollen. By the time of trial, he still hadn’t gotten replacement teeth because of his age and would need to wait 2-5 years after the incident to get replacements. Instead he was using a prosthetic insert known as a flapper.
On appeal, the defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence at trial from which the jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the assault and battery was aggravated. In assault and battery cases, the crime is aggravated if it involves permanent disfigurement to the victim. The defendant argued that there was no permanent disfigurement.
The appellate court found that there was no merit to the defendant’s argument just because at some point in the future the victim could get prosthetic teeth. It explained that prosthetic replacement of the teeth would merely conceal an underlying permanent disfigurement in the permanent loss of the victim’s teeth.
The defendant also argued that the jury couldn’t have found from the evidence presented that the extent of injury to the victim’s teeth and lips was serious enough that the injury had a significant effect on the function of his mouth. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the jury could reasonably find that the loss of two teeth could alone impair bodily function. It explained that an impairment of bodily function doesn’t have to be permanent to qualify as serious under the statute criminalizing assault and battery causing a serious bodily injury.
The defendant also argued that he had acted in self-defense and that there was no evidence he didn’t. However, the court found that there was such evidence. The defendant had admitted he struck Gammon believing the victim was about to hit him. A jury can pick and choose what to believe when considering whether a defendant objectively believed he was in imminent danger. In this case, the defendant’s belief was not objectively reasonable based on the victim approaching him because of how he spoke to a young woman. Generally, Massachusetts’s appellate courts reject claims of self-defense when a defendant hits the victim preemptively. The judgment was affirmed.
If you are accused of or arrested for an assault and battery causing serious injury in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
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