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Substantial Bodily Harm Defined – Minnesota Assault

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The level of harm is often the distinction between whether an assault or obstruction of legal process charge is a felony or not. Central to this analysis is the term: “substantial bodily harm.” If the victim suffers substantial bodily harm, the result is a 3rd degree assault – at a minimum – or a felony obstruction of legal process. So what is substantial bodily harm vs. bodily harm (basically, any amount of pain, even minor).

“Substantial bodily harm” is defined as bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member.

The easiest example of what this definition translates to is when the victim suffers a broken bone. But, it goes beyond that and into some gray areas. A look at case law can help show how this definition isn’t just limited to broken bones. Here are some examples of injuries that the court of appeals confirmed qualified as substantial bodily harm:

  • Concussion, without a loss of consciousness, and bruises
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Two black eyes, a bloody nose, bruises, and scratches

The last example really blurs the line of bodily harm and substantial bodily harm in our opinion. It seems to us that these injuries would be qualify as bodily harm and not substantial. But, it goes to show the level of ambiguity that can exist in fitting certain injuries to the proper levels of harm. An overzealous prosecutor can exploit these and overcharge a defendant – leading to a felony charge when a misdemeanor offense occurred.

Understanding the definitions and how the courts have previously interpreted them is critical to knowing how to attack a State’s case, especially when there is so much ambiguity still. A successful can convert a felony charge to a misdemeanor. That, alone, is a huge win for any defendant and their future.



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