New York Criminal Law Definitions – Serious Physical Injury

The New York Penal Law defines several different crimes such as Assault, Robbery and Burglary that have serious physical injury as an element. The definition of serious physical injury is complex and if a person finds themselves charged with a crime in which serious physical injury is an element they should consult an experienced New York criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

As the name implies, serious physical injury involves injury which is far more involved than physical injury which is defined in our April 16, 2008 blog. In a nutshell, Serious Physical Injury is a physical injury which:
• Creates a substantial risk of death;
• Causes death;
• Causes a serious and protracted disfigurement;
• Causes a protracted impairment of health; or
• Causes a protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.

(For the exact wording of Serious Physical Injury see NY Penal Law § 10.00(10))

The difference between causing a “physical injury” and a “serious physical injury” is the former typically results in a misdemeanor charge while the latter will result in a felony charge. If charged with a crime involving injury, you’re criminal defense attorney must be well versed in the statutory definitions of “physical injury” and “serious physical injury” as well as the cases interpreting these definitions. You’re attorney might consider attacking the sufficiency of the accusatory instrument (the written accusation against you such as an indictment or information) because the injury alleged, while serious on its face, in reality does not fit the statutory definition of “serious physical injury”. For an example, see People v. Jerreld below. Serious physical injury is an element of several criminal offenses including but not limited to, Assault in the Second Degree.

People v. Coy, 45 A.D.3d 1050, 845 N.Y.S.2d 854 (3rd Dept. 2007), serious physical injury was found and an Assault in the Second Degree conviction upheld where the victim suffered bruised ribs, a broken clavicle and four broken bones in her face which required the surgical implantation of support plates, extensive bruising as well as lacerations which required stitches. Furthermore, she remained in intensive care for several four days and the numbness her face, the indentations in her head and her need for pain medication were likely to be permanent conditions.

People v. Betters, 41 A.D.3d 1040, 838 N.Y.S.2d 254 (3rd Dept. 2007) serious physical injury was found where the victim suffered a knife wound requiring nine stitches.

People v. Jerreld, 852 N.Y.S.2d 833 (N.Y.Co.Ct., 2008). In a somewhat puzzling decision, even by defense attorney standards, J. Dennis K. McDermott of the Madison County Court held that that it was not a “serious physical injury” where a two-year-old victim, who had been thrown by the defendant, suffered a fractured leg that required the two year old victim to be placed in a body cast for six to eight weeks.

Charges involving serious physical injury are generally classified as violent felonies many of which carry mandatory state prison sentences. These cases can be tough to prove (see our blog dated April 25, 2008 on self-defense) however, and it is important to get an aggressive and experienced attorney involved as early in the case as possible.

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